MARCH 21, 2017, PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) – The Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) course is one of many tools the Navy uses to promote suicide prevention, and Naval Medical Center Portsmouth wants to train as many people as possible.
“If you think you would be ready, willing, and able to help someone in need, then we want you to come get this training,” said Chief Religious Program Specialist Martha Mackenzie, ASIST instructor.
ASIST is a monthly, two-day course developed by a civilian company, Living Works, and implemented by the Navy which provides trainees with tools to effectively communicate with someone contemplating suicide.
The course teaches advocates how to do an intervention to help an individual through whatever situation is causing them to struggle. It also teaches advocates to recognize warning signs, if any are given, and give them confidence to ask the question — “Are you suicidal; are you thinking about dying?”
“It is very challenging to have that conversation with a person,” said Mackenzie. “To ask a person point blank if they want to harm themselves is so much more difficult than you would think. This program gives people tools that give them confidence to ask a clear question about suicide, and equally important not to panic if they get a ‘Yes, I am thinking about suicide.'”
Through training, advocates learn to refocus the individual on what is important for them. Doing this will assist in keeping them alive, helping them go through their challenge, and then moving on and getting them appropriate treatment.
“Most people just want to talk; they want to get something off their chest because they are going through something,” Mackenzie said. “ASIST gives people the confidence to listen. These people don’t want you to come in and try to solve their problem; they want you to hear them.”
ASIST teaches advocates to ask clear questions about suicide, to listen to the individual’s full story, to support his or her choices, and to ultimately promote life.
“We want them to focus on staying safe for that moment, that day, that week,” she said. “You can’t change somebody’s mind in one shot if they are going through so much pain and suffering.”
Her advice is to help them focus one day at a time and hopefully they will learn to adapt. In addition to learning how to help others, advocates are taught coping skills to help them understand they are not a failure if somebody they helped regresses a week later — they are successful because that individual was alive to regress.
“Almost everyone who comes to my class says ‘What if I say the wrong thing?'” Mackenzie asked. “But, if they care and they are there, then they are doing the right thing.”
According to Living Works, past and present military members accounted for 22 percent of suicides in 2015. This percentage included active duty, Reservists, veterans, and retirees. Mackenzie mentioned she felt it was unbelievable such a high number of people who have served the country are committing suicide.
“That is the percentage of people who have completed suicide, [but] what about the people who attempted?” she stated. “Thirty-five percent attempted but did not complete.”
One goal of the class is to understand the ways personal and societal attitudes affect views on suicide and interventions.
“This is a way to de-stigmatize everything associated with suicide,” Mackenzie said. “We see it a lot; people don’t want to reach out because they don’t want their career to be affected, but the important thing is your life.”
The Navy uses a multifaceted approach to suicide prevention. National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month is celebrated every September, and Sailors are taught about the campaign ACT: Ask, Care, Treat; SAIL, and ASIST. Using multiple programs and promoting campaigns delivers the best chance to provide multiple skill sets to the largest possible audience.
“They say one death is a tragedy, but I not only look at the death — I look at how many people were impacted, and how many people are there that we can help,” Mackenzie added. “Think about how many people we can help who think about it, so they don’t attempt it. We should do anything we can do to save even one person.”
By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Terah L. Bryant, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Public Affairs