NAIT executive shares tips on lowering the risk of suicide
Watch for signs, address the issue head-on, lead people to help
Often just showing that you will be talking about suicide intervention is enough to open the door for someone who needs help.
Gerard Hayes, NAIT vice president for students and campus life, saw this while working at another post-secondary institute.
Years ago he was the associate director of college housing and also certified to train staff to recognize and respond to warning signs of suicide. Among those employees was an aerobics instructor who decided to cancel a class and attend the workout.
He randomly told the students why the cancellation happened.
“When he returns to his class, a student comes up and says, ‘I want to hear more about this suicide workshop,'” Hayes recalls. She wanted to know more because she had thought about ending her life. The instructor got her help.
“Just the mention of him doing the workshop gave permission for this conversation.”
The need for this conversation continues. Across Canada, 4,500 people die by suicide each year. That’s why Hayes shares his knowledge and experience with staff and students today in his role at NAIT. Here are tips anyone can use to encourage others to share their thoughts and feelings and get the help they need.
Remove the stigma
There’s a long history of stigma attached to suicide, Hayes points out. Obituaries for suicide victims once tended to use the term “accidental death.” Until the 1980s, he adds, the Catholic Church did not bury them in their cemeteries. “That stigma, that taboo, is just as prevalent today as it was then,” says Hayes.
This could be particularly relevant in Alberta, which has Canada’s third-highest suicide rate after Nunavut and Saskatchewan, particularly among men, according to data from the Center for Suicide Prevention.
“People who are having suicidal thoughts can’t talk to you about it because of the stigma,” says Hayes. “Some of them are in so much pain that they don’t know how to express the seriousness of what is happening to them.”
Watch out for signs
Even if people can’t say what they’re feeling, they’re probably showing it. “The most important thing is change,” says Hayes. That is, changes in
situations such as B. recent divorce or loss, or the behavior of a loved one, e.g. B. withdrawal or recklessness, feelings of sadness, anger or worthlessness, thoughts of escape, guilt or hopelessness, physical changes, e.g. B. Lack of interest in outward appearance
For example, if Hayes noticed that a friend had suddenly lost a lot of weight, he would ask about it. While he knows that some might worry about making things worse or feel like they don’t feel like prying around, “you have to put that aside if you’re really going to help,” he says.
“You have to ask directly. If you don’t, they won’t feel comfortable talking to you about it.”
Lead her to help
“I’m not a consultant,” Hayes insists. Like many of us, he doesn’t have the necessary training to help someone process suicidal thoughts. But, he says, “I’m committed to helping them — there are people out there I can talk to.”
911 is an immediate point of contact, as is the emergency room at your nearest hospital. There are also a variety of help and emergency numbers. Be sure to insist that a person gets help, says Hayes, and “be firm in your intention to get help for them if they don’t.”
This step alone can change the course of a situation. “Believe it or not, once we bring the subject of suicide up on the table, just because you’ve talked about it, it lowers the risk tremendously,” says Hayes. “It won’t work 100%, but it will in almost all cases.”
Follow up as you see fit
Your level of engagement after connecting a person to help “depends on you,” says Hayes, “and how much you want to put into it.”
If you’re helping a friend or family member, you’re likely to be there throughout the healing process, he emphasizes, but dealing with an acquaintance may be different.
Hayes knows of a case where a person asked another colleague to handle a situation from the beginning and then stepped aside altogether. That’s fine with Hayes. The most important thing, he emphasizes, is that the person has made some kind of connection.
“Getting help in any form is helpful,” says Hayes. “If we can intervene, the risk of suicide is lower.”
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