‘SafeTALK’ can help prevent suicide

By Krista Tacey, krista.tacey@houghtonlakeresorter.com

In the time frame of two weeks 1 in 20 people will think about committing suicide and, in most cases, that one person will reach out to another to stop them. There are now 16 people in the area who can say they will be able to notice the warning signs of suicide and try to stop it from happening.

On March 18, health professionals, counselors, educators and concerned citizens from Roscommon, Crawford and Otsego Counties gathered at the AuSable River Center in Roscommon to take part in a SafeTALK suicide alertness training class.

Aaron Cromar of Northern Lakes Community Mental Health and class trainer said people cannot prevent their thoughts of suicide, but the action of suicide can be prevented. He said in most cases the person trying to commit suicide does not really want to go through suicide. He added they want someone to listen to them and deal with the problem that is causing them to think ending their life is a better option.

“There is a part of them that wants to remain alive,” Cromar said.

Cromar explained that in many cases the person who is thinking about committing suicide will often give cues that they are thinking of suicide. He listed some of the cues or “invitations” that people may show like giving items away, not planning for the future, being moody, isolating themselves and saying there is no reason to go on.

In many cases, Cromar said people who should be picking up on the invitations often miss them, dismiss them, or choose to ignore them for fear of becoming involved. He added the purpose of the class was to teach people how to pick up on the cues and know how to get help for the suicidal person.

The class followed the acronym of TALK, which is the way people should try to deal with suicide when they recognize it. First, Cromar said people should try to get the person to tell them they are thinking about committing suicide. He said to get the person to tell them in a non judgmental way as to not make them feel threatened.

The second step is to directly ask them if they are thinking of suicide if they will not give you a straight answer. He said to directly ask, “Are you thinking about suicide?” If they are not, he said, suicide can be ruled out right away and some of the pressure will be off and the focus can be on the issues making them upset.

“Encourage them to tell you in the most direct way,” Cromar said.

He added to let the person know you are there for them and tell them you care about them and their life is worth saving.

The third step in TALK is the “l” step, which stands for listen to the person. Cromar said to listen to why they are feeling like committing suicide and listen to the problems they are having. He said in most cases having a person to listen to them will be enough to make them not take the action of suicide.

The final step is the “keep safe” portion of TALK. In the “keep safe” step Cromar said to find them additional help or keep track of them until you know they are in better care.

Some of the resources Cromar listed as additional help included family or friends, faith-based organizations, counselors and doctors.

After practicing the SafeTALK method with a partner those attending were presented with a certificate of class completion. At the end of the class, emergency room nurse Tammy Petkus said she learned that is it alright to talk about suicide and that it is not a taboo subject.

She added there is a stigma about suicide that makes people not want to talk about it and said she now feels she has a way to open the lines of communication with her patients.

Nicole Ellens, Northern Lakes Community Mental Health youth suicide prevention coordinator said suicide is more common in the area than residents might think.

She added the class, which is part of the Crawford/Roscommon Suicide Prevention Coalition’s prevention plan, is to help people help others with the thoughts of suicide.

“You don’t need to be a trained professional to help,” Ellens said.

She added the only thing that really matters is that there are people in the community who are willing to help others.

For 24-hour service and information on suicide or to seek help contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or Northern Lakes Community Mental Health at 1-800-442-7315.