safeTALK Suicide Prevention Training Helps People Help Others

Holly, MI – Nicholas Klempp said his goal is to make sure every person in Holly is trained in being able to spot signs of suicidal behavior and get at risk people the help they need to save their lives.

Klempp is the Coordinator of the Holly Area Community Coalition, a group that focuses on reducing alcohol and drug use among teens.  He and Jillian Schneider of Oakland County Community Mental Health did a three-hour safeTALK training on Monday for about a dozen members of the community and school district.  Holly Area Schools is one of three districts that received grant money through Oakland Schools to underwrite training, along with Waterford and Pontiac.

“This is going to guide suicide alertness for everyone,” Klempp said.  “Suicide is a tough subject but its everyone’s business.”

Suicidal thoughts are more common than many people realize, and they can impact anyone.

“Thoughts of suicide are part of being human,” he said.  “Most people that are thinking about suicide won’t act on it, but they may need help.  …Most people who think thoughts of suicide want to live, and they give signs consciously or subconsciously.  The part that wants to live works hard to let other people know.”

One question may be about focusing efforts towards groups that are more prone to suicide.  “People with certain demographics might be more likely to have thoughts of suicide, but if you focus on these you would miss a lot of people,” Schneider said.

The safeTALK training focused on four simple steps: Tell, Ask, Listen and Keep Safe.

Tell is the point where a trained spotter notices behavior or speech that may be signs of suicidal thoughts.  It’s rare for someone to openly tell someone that they want to die.  However there are other signs.  Some maybe  that they are caring less about themselves, their passions or their family, giving away items, withdrawing, having mood changes or using drugs or alcohol.  They also may say things like that they feel alone, like nobody cares, like they are a burden to others, like they need to escape, or they have no purpose.

Once someone shows signs, a spotter then needs to Ask, and be direct about it.

“You may wonder if a behavior is a sign of suicide or not.  There is a simple rule that always works:  They are all serious and they cannot be dismissed,” Klempp said.  “It might not be suicide, but it might be.  Suicide is about life and death.  Ask directly: Are you thinking about suicide?”

A video instructor accompanied Schneider and Klempp in their presentation.  They explained the need for directness by saying “It wasn’t until someone asked me in a direct way that I was able to talk about it in a direct way that I had wanted to.”

One way to do this is to refer to the words or actions that the person had exhibited.  For example “I saw that you have been quiet lately and you said that no one cares, are you thinking about suicide?”  This gives the person a chance to open up, and it lets them know you are paying attention.  They may be silent or dismissive. This is an opportunity to ask again, and invite them to talk about their feelings.

The next step is to Listen. “You don’t need to convince them to live, or find a magic key… they want to talk to somebody about not wanting to live,”  Schneider said.  “Persons with thoughts of suicide can talk themselves out of their thoughts if they have someone who can keep the conversation going.”

At a certain point the conversation may be going on or may be winding down, but that person still needs professional help with their struggles.  This is the Keep Safe stage.  The spotter keeps the person safe by making sure they are connected with a professional.

This can mean taking them to a counselor or sitting there with them while they call a helpline, or even going with them to an emergency evaluation.  Even if the person feels better after a conversation, the connection is key to keeping them safe.

“You end the listening step by saying ‘this is important’ and move on to the last step,” Schneider said.  “Their inability to say they need help is as clear as them saying they need help.  Connect them as soon as they can.  Tell them ‘It is important for you to do this.  I’m not going to take a chance on losing you.”

The safeTALK training provided much more detail about the steps and gave participants a chance to practice.  They also were given support to help keep them strong as they confronted issues of suicide and learned how to be this caring person for others.  Participants became certified, and there is an advanced class that allows people to learn to do training themselves.

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