ASIST Workshop Helps Staff and Volunteers
During May and June, staff and volunteers from seven Distress Centres had the opportunity to attend specialized training in suicide intervention. ASIST, which stands for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, teaches “suicide first aid” in its highly interactive two-day workshop. During the course, participants explore their own attitudes and thoughts about suicide, learn about interventions, are given a model for effective suicide intervention, and learn about local resources for suicide prevention.
In 1983, four professionals joined forces in Alberta to develop training in suicide prevention for people in a broad range of occupations. Today they offer a variety of training seminars and resources, including ASIST, under the umbrella of their corporation, LivingWorks. ASIST is used all over the world, in a wide variety of job settings, including correctional facilities, social work agencies, and even the army. LivingWorks programs and the people behind them have received a long list of awards and recognitions, including being invited to co-sponsor the United Nations’ 1991 initiatives in suicide prevention. What was begun to help the people of Alberta has now achieved world-wide significance.
How did staff and volunteers of Distress Centres react to the training? “I was surprised that a topic like suicide prevention could be taught in such an interesting and provocative way,” said Rukshini Ponniah, executive director of Distress Centre Windsor / Essex. She along with twelve volunteers attended the training in Sarnia, joining others from Sarnia and London.
Gail Cartright, executive director of North Halton Distress Centre, was able to attend with another staff and three volunteers, meeting up with others from Brampton, Peel, and Oakville. “It was really good,” Gail commented. “I really liked the first morning when we explored everyone’s thoughts and opinions about suicide.”
Both Gail and Rukshini said their teams responded very positively to the workshop, and they anticipate a strong impact on many areas of their work. “We don’t get a lot of suicide calls here in Georgetown,” Gail says, but being able to learn the steps of intervention and practice them helped her team feel more competent for when such a call comes in. As well, their team discussed how the intervention model could be applied to another situation they deal with regularly. “Some regular callers have a typical cycle in their call, and the call can become quite lengthy,” Gail notes. Team members hope to adapt the ASIST model so they can lead callers through that cycle more effectively.
Attending this external training has also inspired Gail and Rukshini to improve the in-house training they offer volunteers. While the volunteer training at North Halton Distress Centre teaches a model of intervention similar to the ASIST workshop, Gail says, “it’s maybe not quite as clear to volunteers,” and she is looking forward to tightening their volunteer training to reflect what they’ve learned at the ASIST workshop. Volunteers also told her they especially appreciated role playing, which gave them a chance to practice skills. Rukshini was also very impressed by the workshop. She says, “I really liked how [the trainers] worked with the group, breaking down each skill to the most basic level.” She can’t wait to adapt some of the training techniques she observed into the volunteer training offered at her agency.
Would they recommend this workshop to others? “Most definitely!” says Rukshini. “Anyone in the social services sector would benefit, and definitely all Distress Centre volunteers should take it if at all possible.” Gail wishes that all her volunteers could attend.
Distress Centres Ontario is already planning five more workshops in conjunction with its member centres. The next one will be in September in the Toronto area.
BY: Jeanette Duncan
The Costs of Misdirected Attention
- Psychological Suffering: The more self-focused our attention is, the more we struggle with problems such as depression, anxiety, shyness, etc...
- Making Mistakes: If we don't pay attention to what we're doing, we're bound to make more mistakes.
- Increased Safety Risks: Car accidents, muggins, accidents around the house...many injuries involve an element of unskillful attention.
- Oversensitivity to Changes in the Body: Our bodies are constantly changing. If we pay too much attention to small or subtle changes, we become overly concerned that ever change is a problem or seious illness.
- Not Appreciating the Support of Others: How can we notice what others are doing to support us when our attention is constantly turned inward?
- Boredom/Lack of Interest: When we pay attention to details, the world becomes interest. When we're bored, we're usualy not paying attention to detail.
- Not Noticing What Needs Doing: There is a world of difference between "doing what you feel like doing" and "doing what needs to be done."
- Forgetfulness: Where was your attention when you put down your keys?
- Wasting Time: How often do we waste time because of misdirected attention?
- Causing Unnecessary Trouble to Others: Your life is not an island. The cost of your misdirected attention is often passed on to others.
by: Gregg Krech
A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness
Michael Hickey, a volunteer at Distress Centre Peel, had this to say about his experiences:
just finished my third year at the University of Toronto and have been
volunteering at Distress Centre Peel for the past two years. Although
volunteering is richly rewarding, it can still be somewhat daunting to
respond to callers experiencing emotional distress. I feel it is both
my responsibility and my need to continually improve my skills so that
I can help callers. Distress Centre Peel has given me many
opportunities to grow as a volunteer, including the Active Listening
Course, enrichment events, and learning from more experienced
volunteers, as well as gaining my own experience. But another
important step for me recently was attending the ASIST workshop held at
the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga on June 23 and 24.
workshop provided participants with an opportunity to explore their own
attitudes about suicide, learn practical intervention techniques,
practice simulated interventions, and connect with each other. A key
part of the workshop was learning about and applying the Suicide
Intervention Model, which provides a framework to assess risk and help
meet the needs of “persons at risk.” This model provided a very
practical approach and specific tools which I can apply each time I
receive a phone call at the Distress Centre.
the second day of the workshop there were many opportunities to
practice the Suicide Intervention Model. Using simulations, we learned
both individually and through group interaction how to intervene in a
variety of situations. Following each simulation there was a chance to
debrief with other participants. As a group we analyzed the positive
intervention techniques practiced and identified areas for
improvement. The course format, group setting and instructors
contributed to a very supportive and encouraging learning experience.
a relatively new volunteer, I learned that there is no “perfect
intervention” but there are useful, practical and proven techniques to
achieve positive intervention outcomes. Having the opportunity to
learn and practice these techniques has given me greater
understanding, skill, and confidence as a volunteer. Other
participants I talked to had similar comments. Although it’s only been
a short time since the workshop, I’ve already had an opportunity to
apply the Suicide Intervention Model in my volunteering. I highly
recommend the ASIST workshop!
Step by Step
Distress Centres Durham - WALK FOR SUICIDE AWARENESS
Balloons lift in the air, colours bright in the sunlight. There are no cheers among those releasing them, just a moment of silence and reflection, watered by a few tears. They are remembering, even celebrating, loved ones lost to suicide.
In 2005, Distress Centre Durham held its first Walk for Suicide Awareness. This year, they’re preparing for their third annual walk. It will be held September 8 in Whitby. Participants will again collect pledges to walk the 5 km route along the waterfront trail from Heydenshore Park.
After a morning of walking, participants enjoy a barbeque together, donated by area businesses. Following that, there is a brief remembrance ceremony. People can write messages on helium balloons (biodegradable) if they wish, and as they release them there is a moment for silence and reflection. There is also a “wall of memory” where people can display pictures of family members or friends who died because of suicide.
It is a meaningful day for participants. Most (about 80%) have lost loved ones due to suicide, and many have gone through the survivor support group offered by Distress Centre Durham. Some participants join the walk in teams, wearing bright t-shirts emblazoned with the name of the person they grieve. Walking together, participants have the chance to connect with other people who have experienced the same tragedy. And they boldly walk in public places, defying the stigma suicide often inflicts upon its survivors.
It’s a message of hope and courage: Suicide happened in our families, and together we can fight it.
The date for the walk is chosen to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day, which was set for September 10 every year by the World Health Organization and the International Association of Suicide Prevention, to raise awareness about suicide.
Has this annual event served to raise the profile of the Distress Centre? They’ve had a good response from the media: last year a local newspaper ran a story on the walk before it happened, including several interviews with survivors of suicide. And local government was represented by Whitby’s councilor, who opened the walk last year. Karen Goddard, who runs suicide survivor groups at Distress Centre Durham and also speaks in high schools about suicide prevention, has seen a huge increase in the demand for her services. “Last year I did twice as many presentations in high schools as the year before,” she says. “And our survivor support groups have been running back to back.”
While everyone wishes such services weren’t necessary, it’s clear the walk is helping to draw attention to issues surrounding suicide. Registered participants receive an information package with includes facts about suicide, local resources, and web links. Promotional material is also given to walk observers.
And the walk has also been a financial help to the Distress Centre. In its first year the walk raised $6 000; the second year, even though it was a rainy day, $5 000. Special permission was needed from United Way to do fundraising then, because United Way does most of its fundraising during that time, and asks members to refrain from fundraising then. But because World Suicide Prevention Day is September 10, they have been flexible. “It’s such a low cost way to get the word out about suicide prevention,” says Victoria. Staff at the Distress Centre are very pleased with its success and are looking forward to this year’s walk.
A walk done step by step, just like the fight against suicide.
BY: Jeanette Duncan
Countdown to a Walk for Suicide Awareness
Imagine all the Distress Centres in Ontario having a Walk for Suicide Awareness
on the same day. That’s the vision of
Victoria Kehoe, executive director of Distress Centre Durham. “It’s a powerful way to come together, to
have one voice in the province,” she says.
1 year before:
- Get permission from
- Form committee
- Pick walk route and get permit Find sponsorship for
bbq and advertise
6 months before:
- Design brochure and pledge
form (available from DC Durham)
- Invite local media and
1 month before:
- Invite media for
- Make suicide information packages for
- Prepare promotional materials for observers
For a full “to-do” list or more information, contact Victoria