A month ago, I began training as a Telephone Crisis Supporter. To date, it has been an incredible experience. So many wonderful, amazing people out there, from all walks of life, coming together to give something back to their community. It truly is heartwarming and inspiring, and they are a fun bunch to boot!
But there has also been some uncomfortable moments as we tackle the trickier crisis topics that we will be dealing with each shift on the phones. I am certain that there are many more of these moments to come in the next couple of months. It is the only way of learning how we can help others.
One of those topics is suicide.
This past weekend, as part of the training, I undertook a LivingWorks ASIST course. ASIST stands for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. There are several other courses offered by LivingWorks for different groups in the community.
Talking about suicide is difficult. Most of us don't ever want to even think about it, let alone enter into a conversation about it. But at the same time, it is a very serious topic that affects our entire society. If it has not touched your own life in some way, you almost certainly will know of someone who has been affected in some way.
According to Mindframe, in Australia, in 2011, 2273 people took their own lives. As a comparison 1291 individuals lost their lives on Australian roads that same year. (Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics)
What makes this so much more frightening is that this figure is simply recorded suicides. It does not take into account the attempts by individuals to take their own life that resulted in needing medical attention, or those that did not. It does not reflect the number of suicides that occurred but for whatever reason were recorded as another cause of death. And, for myself at least, it sadly does not consider the number of people within our communities, possibly people we love, work with, talk to every single day, who have thoughts of suicide.
When you look at the situation in that light, it takes on a whole new dimension. It is an enormous issue... But sadly, one that carries so much taboo and stigma that you can go weeks on end and not hear the word mentioned once. And if you do, it often is referred to in humorous or crude terminology that makes light of the issue. But it is in fact very very real.
I went into the training quite scared about my ability to deal with this particular form of crisis. If someone I was talking to was suicidal, would I be brave enough to help? Will I say the wrong thing and make things worse? Can I keep my own emotions in check? I think thoughts like that are quite normal. It is a big, deep topic we are not familiar with. We are not encouraged to become familiar with it. It is daunting to face something so ominous head on.
But I am so grateful I did the training!
By no means am I wanting to test out my lessons in the real world. I wish that I could go through life and never use them. I wish that I could consider them like first aid, peace of mind to have - the end. And it is a form of first aid - you intervene the suicide and make way for the safe progression into longer term forms of care and life management.
But if I continue through the Telephone Crisis Support training to the end (there are assessments and a probationary period to complete before it is official.) I sadly will use these skills. Possibly multiple times in one shift.
But if I can help one person, that course will have been worth it, and so too my discomfort at having to face the subject head on.
Even if I don't make it through the training, simply being able to open a discussion, like writing this now, helps in some way. I hope it takes us a fraction closer to a day where suicide is less taboo and the pain that life can bring us is more openly shared. Maybe then this issue can be reduced in size a little, then a lot.
We can but hope.
If anyone reading this is in crisis, or feels the need to talk to someone, consider Lifeline 13 11 14.