Suicide Prevention Resource Centre
Watch our SPARK Talk on engaging suicide attempt survivors.
“By listening to attempt survivors, we can create alternative responses that will help keep people alive.”
Barb Gay, MA
Barb Gay is the executive director of the Area Substance Abuse Council, Inc., a nonprofit substance abuse prevention and treatment agency located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She is also a member of the Suicide Attempt Survivor Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
Transcript of SPARK Talks
Speaker: Barb Gay, Member of the Suicide Attempt Survivors Task Force, National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention
My name is Barb Gay. I’m the executive director for the Area Substance Abuse Council located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I also was a member of the Suicide Attempt Survivor Task Force for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
I think adding the voice of suicide attempt survivors into the field of suicide prevention is essential. I believe that lives can be saved. I believe that deaths by suicide can be prevented. I believe people can recover and lead full and productive lives. I believe this because I have survived my own suicide attempts. Because I live my life in recovery. Because I work in the community mental health field. When suicide attempt survivors work with suicide prevention providers, we can improve the systems that are charged with providing care: primary care, crisis and emergency care, behavioural health care.
Suicide attempt survivors want providers to talk directly about suicide. To talk about suicide with compassion. To ask the individual who is experiencing suicidal thoughts what it is they need to be safe.
Oftentimes, there’s silence that surrounds suicide. And the questions that are asked, are asked with a presumed response. A question like, “You aren’t thinking about suicide, are you?” really shuts down the person who might have been thinking about suicide and was ready to share. Instead, asking a question with compassion and saying, “When people sometimes experience and feel the way you’re feeling, they think about ending their lives. Are you thinking about ending your life?”
Talking about suicide with someone who has had an attempt, or someone who is thinking about suicide, won’t cause them to make an attempt. It will make them feel cared about. Make them feel loved. It will treat them with respect and dignity. And will help find a way to make them well.
Often there’s a lot of fear when someone starts talking about ending their life. The common response that I’ve heard is to use the emergency room or call for 911. We make an assumption about what someone needs to be safe. We think they need emergency medical care. What they get are sirens and lights, lots of attention, lots of people in uniforms that have weapons and handcuffs. We don’t ask them what they need to be safe.
When we listen to suicide attempt survivors, and we learn what their stories are and what they would’ve liked to have happen, we can create alternative responses to keep people alive.
In my community, we use mobile crisis counsellors to come onsite. Instead of first responders, we have two crisis counsellors who arrive in an unmarked car, in their normal everyday clothes. No weapons, no handcuffs. They sit and talk with the individual who’s experiencing suicidal thoughts. They hear what’s causing their pain. They listen to their reasons for living; they listen to their reasons for dying; and they collaborate to make a plan of action to keep that person alive.
For help in Australia
CAPS – Talk Suicide Support Service – Free telephone and face to face support 1800 008 255
Salvation Army Care Line 1300 36 36 22
Reach Out http://au.reachout.com/tough-times
Headspace Register and chat now at eheadspace, or call 1800 650 890 Headspace
Lifeline 13 11 14
Mensline Australia 1300 78 99 78 (24 hour phone counselling and referral)
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Mates in Construction: 1300 642 111
QLife 1800 184 527 Phone & Chat 3.00 – 12.00 pm everyday
SANE Australia Helpline – Talk to a mental health professional (weekdays, 10am-10pm AEST) 1800 18 72 63
Helpline chat – Chat online with a mental health professional (weekdays 10am-10pm AEST)
Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 (24 hour phone counselling)
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 (Professional call back service referral line operates seven days a week)
Veterans Line 1800 011 046 (after hours professional telephone crisis counselling for veterans and their families