The fifth episode in our podcast A World Where LivingWorks is “First on the Scene”. This episode is all about living well in the first responder and emergency services workforces and asking that all important question, when it comes to suicide, how are we protecting the lives of those who protect ours?
Host Kim Borrowdale talks with Federal Bureau of Investigation special agent and LivingWorks trainer Paul Bertrand. The FBI is an intelligence-driven and threat-focused national security organization in the United States with both intelligence and law enforcement responsibilities. The FBI works around the globe and employs close to 36,000 people, including special agents and support professionals such as intelligence analysts, language specialists, scientists, and information technology specialists.
Also joining the conversation from the United Kingdom is Andy Chapman. Andy is a former police officer with many years of his three-decade policing career spent as a hostage negotiator where he often negotiated at length with people planning to take their own lives. Andy is a LivingWorks safeTALK trainer and now the Suicide Prevention Lead for the City of York.
Paul went from working on white collar crime to now instructing at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia and working on suicide awareness and intervention at the Bureau. The organization has impressive goals regarding training staff in LivingWorks safeTALK and ASIST and creating an organization wide Network of Safety which you’ll hear about in the podcast.
He notes that he never understands why in the face of suicides, management’s first response is to hire more counsellors, “That’s nice, but wouldn’t it be a better use of resources to train the people that are where the people that need the help are all the time, so that they can get them to those mental health type resources.”
Reflecting on feedback of their initiative, which they’re three years into, “So far, it’s going very well, the anecdotal stories we get back are huge and it’s inevitable that every class, within a few months, people are emailing the teachers and telling the stories of when they used the ASIST outside of the classroom.”
Andy is a strong believer in training police in suicide awareness and intervention, and especially now during COVID-19 times and the heightened stress everyone is under, “The police encounter mental ill health and crisis and people in distress routinely, they are the frontline staff who would generally be going to those incidences and whilst they would argue that their role is prevention of crime, public safety, more and more of their role is about mental ill health and the more that society becomes fractured, the more that social services are reducing capacity because of finances and now more recently because of COVID, the more police officers are attending these persons in distress.”
He adds about first responders and teaching them that it’s okay to ask someone straight up if they are considering suicide, “If they don’t have the communication skills and the right attitude, that can be really dangerous because there might be one opportunity to reach somebody, one opportunity to ask the question of somebody, that others might not have, so I think it’s vitally important that we reach police services.”
To hear more about both guests’ personal reflections and professional experiences on the front lines of suicide intervention in policing and first responders, listen here.
Keep an ear out for Episode 6 “Behind Crisis Lines” coming to a podcast player near you next Tuesday. In our final episode of the series, host Kim Borrowdale talks to Joe Ball, CEO of Switchboard Victoria, Australia, and Shari Sinwelski, Vice President of National Networks, Vibrant Emotional Health and Deputy Director, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, speaking with us from Florida, USA.