Wednesday 12 June 2013

An experience of ASIST 

A guest blog from a mental health team leader

As a Mental Health Liaison worker in a busy A & E department, it is the role
of our team to assess and support people who are in crisis, often with
suicidal thoughts. Many people we see have already attempted suicide and
many others are contemplating it.  I have done this work for twelve years, so
I was really interested to go on the two day ASIST (Applied Suicide
Intervention Skills Training), which is an interactive and practical course-
it explores our attitudes to suicide and helps to identify risk and
interventions for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts.

I didn't have any preconceptions about the course, I was just pleased to
find some training which was so relevant to the area that I work in.  I was
really impressed.  Right from the start I found the approach interesting and
thought provoking; challenging too, but in a very positive way.  The training
content was relevant and practical, really well delivered and sensitively
thought offers some excellent approaches and skills for those
with no experience at all, to the very experienced in this field.

A common theme that I hear from most people considering suicide is: "not
being able to see a way out" of their difficulties.  Although everybody's
individual story differs, a common pattern that I see is people experiencing
a build up of stresses and not feeling able to confide in others, causing an
increase in feelings of isolation and desperation.  A big challenge that
people in distress, or people with mental health problems face is the stigma
attached and the fear of how people might react to them if they disclose
what they are experiencing.  It's a big step to admitting to someone that
they are thinking about suicide and it can also feel like a big
responsibility to know how best to respond sometimes.

This course equips us all to acknowledge those difficult feelings, to
gradually explore alternatives to suicide at a helpful pace, moving forward
to looking at safety planning and support options.  If more people in our
community are equipped to respond, then the aim is to intervene and help at
an earlier stage, before people act on those suicidal thoughts - and this is
where the ASIST skills are so valuable in overall suicide prevention.  I was
reassured to see that the approaches that ASIST use are very similar to what
we have learned to do in our team naturally through years of experience and
through observing what seems to be effective.  For me the ASIST trainers put
into words what works  in practice, in a very clear and digestible format,
which was very reassuring.  What I hadn't previously considered was that
anyone can work towards this and be skilled- not just professionals.
Naturally the  more people equipped with consistent skills and the more
overall healthy attitudes are developed, the better for all us. Attitudes
towards suicide are slowly shifting, but it remains a taboo subject for

I think that the training encourages a more open dialogue about suicide and
encourages much healthier attitudes and approaches.  It is well thought out
and really practical. I have recommended it to colleagues and would
encourage anyone to attend.

Fiona Ellis
Team Leader
Mental Health Liaison Team
A & E