Florida National Guard extends suicide intervention training into the community

Written by  //  September 4, 2012  //  Feature Stories, News

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (September 1, 2012) –It’s a situation no one wants to be in. What do you do when a friend, family member, co-worker or a complete stranger tells you they’re thinking about committing suicide? Participants in a recent Florida National Guard workshop learned that there’s a method out there that provides the tools to prevent the immediate risk of suicide.

Participants conduct a role-playing exercise during a recent Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop in St. Augustine, Fla., Aug. 23, 2012. For the first time, the Florida National Guard invited civilian first responders to participate in the training to build relationships and share experiences and lessons learned.

Not all of the participants were military members. For the first time, the Florida National Guard incorporated civilian first responders into the training as a way to engage the local community in suicide awareness and share experiences and lessons learned.

“The first responders have added to the perspective with their training and helped us think beyond some of the situations we encounter typically within the military,” said Michael McFarland, the Florida National Guard Director of Psychological Health.

The Florida National Guard began training Soldiers on the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) method in 2010 as a way to improve Soldiers’ ability to intervene successfully in potential suicide situations. The ASIST method is a civilian program developed as a two-day workshop to make people feel more comfortable, confident and competent when dealing with suicide. The Army officially adopted ASIST as its suicide intervention training program in 2009.

1st Lt. Lakiesha Roberson with the Florida National Guard's Office of the State Surgeon role plays as participants in the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop try to talk her down from a bridge. The ASIST course trains participants in suicide intervention.

Several members of the St. Johns County Fire Rescue attended the training not only to learn skills they can use when responding to calls, but also to learn to identify risk factors in their peers who often work in dangerous and stressful situations.

“We’re looking to give ourselves additional tools to recognize dangerous or at-risk behavior in our members,” said Jim Beckett, a lieutenant with the St. Johns County Fire Rescue. “It also gives us some tools when we actually go on calls. We actually respond to a lot of attempted suicide calls in the course of our daily job and it gives us a little bit more tools to work those kind of situations effectively too.”

For many, the training built on basic skills they already had and provided a framework, in the form of the ASIST model, to intervene successfully to stop suicide.

“In my past, I’ve had very little training of this type,” said Beckett. “In paramedic school, we got a couple of chapters in the book and a couple of lectures about dealing with psychological-type emergencies and it just barely scratched the surface on how to interact and how to behave.”

The training is also important for the military to share with civilian responders because often they are the ones who respond when a Guardsman is in crisis off duty.

“We’re creating networks and reaching out to community partners so that we all speak the same language because as Guard members we’re going to interface with the community so often that we depend upon them and their resources,” said McFarland.