Answers to questions about Suicide First Aid training – written video transcriptions
Video 1 – What would you say to someone who felt apprehensive about attending SFA training?
Christine: I appreciate those concerns, sometimes I think the word suicide, as soon as people hear it, rightly so, has negative connotations, but I think in the training, we quickly allay those fears, because we’re quite strict about ground rules, about what we’re there to talk about. And we’re not there to talk about past experiences, which of course can be very painful. We’re there to talk about individuals who are in our communities who are having thoughts of suicide.
So, I literally see people’s shoulders go down, because they know that for one the session is being controlled by me, the trainer, who knows the syllabus, knows what can come up. They’re allayed because they know nobody’s going to go off on a story that’s going to have upsetting and maybe triggering things in it. That won’t be allowed, that’s not what we’re there to talk about. And what we are there to talk about is identifying individuals who are amongst us – because the statistics tell us one in 20 people, it’s very common, have had these thoughts – identifying and building rich relationships with those people, that make talking about those experiences, those thoughts, able to share.
The good news is, as soon as people share those thoughts, research tells us that their possibilities for safety start to increase, so the course, far from being a negative thing, is a massively uplifting and empowering thing for the individual, for their immediate family, for their workplace, and who knows, for the wider community too.
Video 2 – What does a First Aid Approach mean?
Christine: We would see that first aid model, which is widely given credibility across the world now, is very much on that first aid model that all understand from physical first aid. We are not the professional caregivers. What we are, are the listening ear, the person who’s able to maybe see things from a colleague or family member, and maybe start to put some of those bits of the jigsaw together, and maybe if necessary, hear something that that person says, and maybe gently challenge them on it. Or even ask that person directly if they’re having those thoughts.
So we would strongly think about the fact that we’re not formal caregivers and we’re not counsellors, and we’re not looking to build up these therapeutic relationships with anybody, but what we are is a link to individuals who could be that therapeutic link for that person. Helping that person to make those first connections or maybe helping that person use an EAP scheme, an employee assistance programme, or supporting that person to maybe come to HR, or whatever it is, or access our NHS. But very much that person who is that bridge between where they are now and that ongoing support.
And that we would discourage somebody becoming some pseudo or faux counsellor, because in some respects, definitely that person isn’t qualified to do that. But that doesn’t mean that when that person isn’t in that therapeutic care, that that person, if they were a colleague or a family member, couldn’t be there to support that therapeutic process, helping them get there, talking about what had gone on if that person wants to. But a first aid model is just that, it’s noticing, it’s awareness and alertness, and it’s being able to direct that person to the most appropriate care for them, depending on where they are.
Have they had just one thought about suicide? Or if during our discussions, it is clear that it’s gone much further than that, and that person is actually struggling to keep themselves safe. Massively our response needs to be tailored towards where that person is.
Jan: Yeah, so there’s clear boundaries of what the role is, if you like?
Christine: Yeah, of what the role is and more what it’s not, and I think that frees that person to feel empowered to engage with others, because you’re not getting given a hot potato that’s yours and there’s only you, because that’s much too big a burden for that person. Our role is to start those initial conversations, hear that disclosure or ask directly about suicide, and then work with that person to find the most appropriate hands around that person that they can grab onto.
Facilitating that, giving more or less support. Some people may have just had one thought, they might be more than able to ring somebody, but other people, they will need lots of guidance and lots of cajoling towards that ongoing care, and the course teaches those different levels of being able to connect that person, but it’s very much that first aid, first responder kind of syllabus that we’re teaching.
Video 3 – What sets the SFA course apart?
Christine: To explain that, I need to go back in time a bit, because 15 years ago when I first started to be interested in delivering courses in this way, we didn’t really have anything in the UK. The awarding bodies that sort of supported these models were Canadian and Australian, okay, so I started to deliver those first. I still deliver them, they’re world renowned, but actually over the years, we got things that were more UK-based, that were on our curriculum, that came under our network of qualifications and used UK-based resources. And that was when I first started to see Suicide First Aid. Actually, the full title is Suicide First Aid, and under that, Through Understanding Suicide Intervention.
So the course is you being able to be that first aid caregiver to someone having thoughts by fully understanding what intervention is, okay. So that model, if you like, mirrors a lot of the things that are going on globally, but had much more of a UK feel, and I like, and we like working together to have a number of things that we’re able to offer. It’s no one size fits all, but I think what a lot of people are finding with the Suicide First Aid, in its half day or full day format, that different levels of knowledge can be embraced by one organisation.
So maybe quite a few people have done the half day, and then maybe some key people have done the full day, and maybe even gone on to study further with the City and Guilds, and that they take more of a strategic role about how the organisation’s going to move forward with it. Or if it’s into the continual professional development curriculum, say, they are HR coordinator and they think, right, I’d like to go further with that and do a day and do a qualification, which is the City and Guilds 407.
Question 4 – Why is the SFA course so important?
Christine: For me, I think that it was something that I wanted not just me to do within my own family, but I have four sons. All my sons have done something, you know. One of the key parts of suicide intervention training is to realise that these things can touch anybody, okay, and that the World Health Organisation said in 2016, we are not going to crack global suicide, which currently stands just a bit short, we think, of a million suicides a year. We’re not going to crack it, we’re not going to make any imprint on it just by training up more clinicians. They have endorsed, and it’s come up in lots of suicide awareness days that we have every year, that this community model is the best model that we’ve got.
So, if you like, we’re punctuating our family groups, our friends’ group, our workplaces, society, with people who know a bit more, people who are more switched on, people who are ready, willing and able and can spot things that maybe somebody else wouldn’t be able to spot. And that if we do that, then we’ve got a good chance of having an early intervention when people first start to have those thoughts, because we know the thoughts come way before planning and come way before somebody taking their own life.
So if we could get in early and people were able and switched onto that, that’s going to be the only way that we’re going to make an impact on the horrendous figures that we’ve got. And the analogy I use in training is that we were fearful of things like cancer 20 years ago, we could barely say the word. We would mouth the big C, and we were massively fearful. And I think that fear perpetuated that illness, but now we’re changed on that, we talk about signs and symptoms early, there’s lots of things on TV. We’re up, we’re active in the community, raising money for these things, it’s talked about openly, but we’re nowhere near there with suicide.
And we have a saying, we say that suicide flourishes in ignorance and silence, and it’s also been my life’s work, my working life over the last 20 years or so to take both of those things away from it. We will not be silenced, and if we can all get rid of some of the myths and misinformation around suicide by education, then we will be doing all we can, and that’s all we can ever do.
Video 5 – Who would benefit from attending the SFA course?
Christine: Well, I think anybody would benefit. We have an age limit of 15 for the course, and certainly within my working career, I’ve delivered it within schools, forward thinking schools who are saying, the best way to keep other students safer is for students themselves to be able to monitor conversations. Because we know young people talk about suicides, we know that by looking at keywords and algorithms within social media, and then only the other evening, I did a course with retired teachers.
The full spectrum of society would benefit, and it’s always reassuring to me that maybe I’ll do a course within the school for some educators, and then somebody later will send me an email, sometimes months later and say, when I did your course, I thought that that course would be very work-focused, it would be for a student, perhaps for a colleague. But today, I’ve asked my son about suicide, because your course switched me onto things and behaviours, thank you for that, and I say, why are you thanking me? You’re the person who’s been forthright, because they know that they would never really have envisaged that it would be somebody in their family, somebody they loved.
So the answer to that question is, there isn’t really anybody, and we need to sort of catch up in the UK, because in say Canada, they’re training young people as young as nine in these topics, so we’re not really there yet with that. Of course they’re teaching them in an age appropriate way and it will be a different course, but I think they’re ahead of us in that respect. I’ve realised that this is information, that if a young person was able to spot things and maybe either support that person, or more likely tell an adult or an educator, then we know that we have suicides with very young people, and that often there were things that maybe their friends and peers picked up that nobody else picked up. So the more the merrier for me.
Video 6 – How does SFA training help in the workplace?
Christine: I think this is a sort of lightbulb moment, because I think we have this idea that suicide happens with people who are obviously struggling, people who’ve got mental illness, these other people who aren’t really in employment. But actually, we know that of the people who take their own life, only about 22 per cent of those are known to the NHS in any way. So on paper, the vast majority of people who take their own life are okay, they’re fine, so you see people sort of take a double take on that one a little bit. So if you like, they’re in work one day, college, school or whatever and not the next, and that sort of brings into focus that it isn’t somewhere outside of our workplace.
People who die by suicide are inside our workplace, and that often when people’s psychological wellbeing is deteriorating, the workplace, and the fact that it’s quite immediate, we know how to do it and whatever, people resonate towards that where it keeps their head straight. But we are uniquely placed as other colleagues to sometimes spot the subtle changes in that person, that show that they’re maybe deteriorating or they’re not okay. People will fight tooth and nail to keep some of these things away from family members, but actually when we have certain tasks that we have to perform in the workplace, or certain quiet moments, that might be the time when we’re more able to share it with somebody else.
And that often when people tell me about, and I’ve supported people in the workplace, they’re going to tell somebody in the workplace before they tell somebody at home. There’s a lot of guilt and shame about these thoughts. It’s incredibly difficult to start a conversation around suicidal thoughts over the dinner table, but actually sometimes the workplaces offers those relationships and those quiet moments, and sometimes those moments of turmoil, when somebody is able to share those thoughts.
So I think it’s easy to think that suicidal thoughts are outside the workplace, but they’re not, they’re inside, and tragically we know that for a lot of organisations, it comes right to the fore when they have to support other people when somebody’s taken their own life. So the course that we do, think about the whole spectrum of prevention, intervention, and even starting to think about postvention. What would the organisation do if somebody who was connected to the organisation or employed by the organisation died by suicide?
And that’s not a thought that we want to think about, but like a lot of things that we plan for and think about; terrorism, fire, all the things, forewarned is forearmed. And as an organisation, if we’ve considered these things, we will be much better to deal with them in a caring and in a way that matched what we should be doing, so that we couldn’t be … well not criticised, but we wouldn’t feel that we could have done it better. So routinely, often the organisation is doing a lot around prevention, but they don’t appreciate it. They sometimes haven’t done much around postvention, and we talk about both of those.
But the focus of Suicide First Aid training is intervention, but we’re keeping our eye on all those. And for me, if an organisation understands prevention, has got themselves geared up to postvention, which sometimes only takes half a day with the right documents which I give to people, and they’ve trained enough people in intervention, then for me, they’re doing everything they can to prevent suicide. And do you know what, that’s a really credible thing for every organisation to do.