By Michael Sukut 
BELLEVILLE – Loyalist College hosted a talkSAFE workshop on Tuesday night where participants learned how to identify if someone is dealing with mental health issues and how to help someone who’s considering suicide.
Allyson Tufts, one of the speakers at the presentation wanted to get awareness out to the community about suicide intervention.
“We wanted to take the stigma away from suicide conversations so we can help people who are struggling. In my family, my cousin passed away years ago from suicide and it was back when nobody talked about it. It was very hard on the family and more recently my daughter lost a good friend to suicide and it was a struggle.”
She also does bereavement support for families that have suffered a loss and hear their stories.
“There needs to be more support and more awareness out there” she says.
Terry Snider was a co-speaker at the presentation and is an employee of the Canadian Mental Health Association. He is an employment counsellor and a trainer for safeTALK and assist and intervened skills training.
“I have used my safeTALK and assist training a lot at work because I am a councillor and I meet people who are mentally ill and vulnerable. And they will disclose during a counselling meeting so I got to use it then.”
People who attended the seminar heard that about one in 20 people can contemplate suicide, but a vast majority won’t get to a stage of self harm.
They also heard that it’s important that bystanders step in if someone is feeling sad or depressed.
People may be reluctant to do so. Participants were told that there are three main ways that people may not act upon possible issues. They are miss, dismiss and avoid.
To miss the sign of a problem is to have it completely fly over your head, not recognizing that suicide may be a possibility at all.
To dismiss the problem is to mean that you are aware that suicide is a possibility, but not take it really seriously. You might think that only certain types of people could do it, and that your friend or family member is not that type of person, or that there is no way they could get that low.
Avoidance is when you are aware of a risk of suicide and do take it seriously, but you actively avoid bringing it up. Reasons why people may do this are that they may not know what to do, and worry about possibly making the problem worse. Also they may feel like speaking up could ruin a connection they may have with the other person.
Seminar participants also heard about how to recognize that someone may be feeling uneasy or depressed.
How they look and act can tell the story. If they always look tired, have poor hygiene, look dull in the eyes and have grim facial expressions, that could be a sign.
Another set of signs involves how they act. These include withdrawing from social activities and making excuses to get away, being harsh on themselves, answering questions bluntly, becoming careless and take unnecessary risks, not listening when someone is talking and losing interest in things they used to like, including giving away some personal belongings as a gift.
Life situations are also an important thing to take note of. If they have a history of abuse, rejection, losses, and suicide experience then that is a sign.
Also, if there is anything that seems abnormal or uncharacteristic about someone, then something could certainly be an issue.
Seminar participants were also given steps to take if they recognize someone is considering suicide.
If you suspect someone is feeling down, sad, or depressed, clearly ask them if they are having thoughts about suicide.
If they clearly say they have thoughts of suicide, never be judgmental, angry, negative, offer advice, panic, belittle them, or be impatient. This could make them feel unwelcome about going deeper in a conversation in a possibly urgent time.
Instead, be sensitive, caring, direct, calm, non-judgemental, and have patience. If you feel like you are not comfortable carrying on the conversation, refer them to someone else who is more qualified such as a mental health councillor, and do so immediately. Never leave somebody alone if you feel like a suicide attempt may be imminent. If you can’t be there, make sure they stay on the phone with you. If not, then you could give a call to nearby emergency services.
If someone decides to carry on the conversation with you, this is extremely important. Always give them your undivided attention and show it by nodding, eye contact when appropriate, reiterating answers and so on. Ask follow up questions and as many as you can.
This is urgent as it could be the difference between life or death. Get them in touch with someone who could help them save their own life. Never promise total confidentially. If they may be an imminent threat to themselves or others, then you must disclose to proper authorities. If the threat to others is real, then take away any sharp objects or other possible weapons.
Near the end of the event, attendees were asked to get into groups and act out a possible scenario like this. Even though it was just a dramatization, almost all of them said they felt really scared to jump in and ask about the possible thought of suicide, and ended up saying nothing at all.
QNet News talked to some attendees at the event.
First year health science student Darrel Lott came because he says that he has had experiences over his life that have caused him to develop an interest in people’s behaviours.
“I thought maybe it would be a prudent thing to do as to become more knowledgeable. My partner is a medical professional as well so it just adds to my experience and exposure.”
Listed below are some numbers to call if you feel uptight and are struggling with mental health issues.
Suicide Prevention Centre (Quinte Health Care): 613-969-7400 ext. 2753
Teen Line (www.kidshelpphone.ca): 1-800-668-6868
Children’s Mental Health: 613-966-3100
Canadian Mental Health Association: 613-969-8874
Crisis Line: 613-969-5511 or 1-888-757-7766
Mental Health Support Network South East Ontario: 613-969-0122