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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Talking about Suicide and Robin Williams"

This blog post is reprinted with permission from Hollis Easter.  Please read more of Hollis' articles about mental health and suicide at http://www.holliseaster.com/

Robin Williams died today, at 63. The Marin County Sheriff’s department released a press statement saying they suspect it of being suicide by asphyxiation, and there’s other news on their site.
There will be a media frenzy about this for the next little while, and a lot of people are going to be talking about it. I want to help people talk about it in a way that’s as respectful and safe as possible for vulnerable people, so here are a few thoughts and requests.

Be respectful about thoughts of suicide

Wherever you are, there are people near you who are struggling with their own thoughts of suicide. Some of them are going to feel strongly affected by Williams’s death, and the research shows that a small subset of that group will find that this news pushes their own thoughts of suicide into the forefront.
Please be careful how you talk about what happened with Robin Williams, because these folks will hear your words and may apply them to their own situations. Do you feel that he was a sick or weak person because he had these thoughts? How would that thought sound to these other folks? Did he “lose his battle” by acting on his thoughts of suicide? Be aware that, in the ears of a vulnerable person, you may be calling them weak too.
In particular, please don’t call suicide a “permanent solution to a temporary problem”. Whether or not the problems really are temporary, it doesn’t help the person at risk to have their troubles minimized—it just paints us as being out of touch. You don’t actually need to do that much talking about suicide itself; instead, get the person talking about what they’re feeling and why they’re considering suicide. It’s fine to help them see that these feelings may not last forever—but the “permanent solution” language is really toxic for a lot of people. Leave the labels behind and get the person talking.
Research suggests that about 5% of people (1 in 20) report thinking about suicide in any given year. That makes having thoughts of suicide seem pretty normal, but only a small group of people will act on those thoughts. If you look around, you will see people who are fighting—and winning—their own battle with suicide every day. Be respectful about how you talk about the issue.
People who’ve never struggled with suicide often seem to think that considering suicide is a choice. That, if only they knew how stupid it was to consider suicide, people would just stop thinking about it. I’ve worked on a suicide hotline for the last 15 years. Believe me when I say that most of the suicidal people I’ve talked to would have given anything to be able to make those thoughts go away. Be kind.
If you’re a person who has thoughts of suicide and the news about Williams is pushing your buttons, please reach out for help. If you live anywhere in the USA, you can dial 1-800-273-TALK and get the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is free and confidential and open 24/7.

Talk directly about suicide

It’s okay to use the words. Suicide. Killing yourself. Wanting to die.
We don’t need to be afraid of the words, and using clear language helps us communicate better. There’s no evidence to suggest that talking directly about suicide hurts vulnerable people, and there’s a lot of it showing that direct talk helps to reduce stigma and help vulnerable folks feel like they can talk openly about how they’re struggling.
“Committed suicide” isn’t great because it feels pretty judgmental (we commit sins). “Lost his battle” feels like it’s labeling him as weak.
So use the other words. It looks like Robin Williams died by suicide, may have killed himself, may have taken his own life. It’s okay to use the words. If you want to know more about the terms we use in the suicide intervention world, check out my guide and my other guide.

Remember the whole person

Williams’s wife has asked that we remember Robin Williams primarily by honoring the man he was, not merely by examining the way he died.
He lived a life that meant a lot to us. He was a brilliant comedian whose imitations inspired me as a child, whose ability to improvise staggers me with its breadth and clarity. He knew timing. He did good work and helped us to look at some important, difficult things in life, and he helped us do it with a twinkle in our eyes. Turns out that he was also struggling with depression, possibly bipolar disorder, and thoughts of suicide.
It’s important to talk openly and honestly about suicide, and to grieve for the loss we feel. We feel hurt by his death, and feel that he was taken from us too soon. That’s real, and that’s fine to talk about. But let’s refrain from making Williams a caricature of his own life. Suicide was a part of it, sure, but let’s not reinvent his whole life in this context.

Avoid assumptions about Williams’s treatment history

A lot of the initial stories have focused on Williams’s alleged history of struggling with bipolar disorder, and I’ve read a ton of Facebook statuses and tweets saying “if only he could have gotten treatment” or “I wish he’d known there was help available”.
This is well-intentioned but not really that helpful. We don’t know whether Williams was receiving treatment or not, but the sad truth is that treatment doesn’t always work. Medicine is imperfect. People react to different drugs and therapies differently, and there’s no magic solution out there. The field of psychiatry is getting better at treating bipolar disorder, and there’s a lot of reason to be hopeful, but it’s not anywhere close to 100% yet.
Remember, most people with thoughts of suicide want to stop having them. If treatment were easy and fully effective in all cases, don’t you think most people would have taken that option already?
If it helps you to understand why this sort of statement is unhelpful, imagine that Williams had died of cancer. Would it feel useful to say “oh, if only he’d known that treatment was available!” or “he should have fought harder”?
Would it help his family to hear that people made those assumptions about how easily Williams could have gotten better? Remember that the survivors of suicide loss are all around us, too.

Do encourage people to seek help

For a lot of people, talking about their thoughts of suicide helps them to go away. Some people need the help of a trained professional, and some people need drug treatment or hospitalization. But a lot of people just need a caring person to listen. If someone starts telling you about their own thoughts of suicide in the aftermath of this, stay present and listen.
Ask them why they’re feeling that way. Let them talk about the reasons for it. Start with the feelings. Don’t try to shove reasons for living down their throats—they won’t be able to breathe. They know there’s stuff worth living for; let them talk about the reasons they’re thinking about dying.
And encourage them to keep talking, to you and to others. As I said above, invite people to talk to the NSPL at 1-800-273-TALK or call a crisis line or reach out to other caregivers.

Avoid assuming it’s suicide

We know that Robin Williams has died, and the coroner has preliminarily ruled it a suicide. That said, we still don’t know for sure—they’ve also said that the investigation continues and there will be a press conference tomorrow. There can be benign (non-suicidal) reasons for a person dying by asphyxia at home. Let’s do our best to refrain from contributing to the frenzy about suicide until the professionals have reached their conclusions. Actually, let’s do our best to hold back the frenzy even afterwards.

Talk about suicide and mental health

This is a big one. This is what we need to be doing if we want to prevent deaths by suicide in the long term. There remains a huge amount of social stigma around thoughts of suicide and mental health concerns in general, and it’s still hard for people to get help.
Tons of our hotline callers tell us they feel they can’t talk to their doctors or families about the way they’re feeling because they fear people won’t understand, will judge them, will label them, will lock them up, or simply won’t listen. We can and should do better.
So let’s talk about it, and not just in the gossip-ridden aftermath of a celebrity’s death. Let’s talk about expanding access to health care for all citizens, and then let’s make sure that we train health care workers about mental health AND build systems that give them enough patient contact time to have these crucial conversations.
Let’s make it easier to get access to mental health care, and let’s fund agencies that do the work. Let’s have the hard conversations about how we care for people who struggle with suicide in our communities, and let’s actively seek the voices of the people who struggle so we don’t make too many assumptions about what would help.
There’s a whole group of professionals who’ve learned a lot about how suicide happens and what we can do to prevent it. I’m one of them. We’re doing our best to get the messages out, but we need help. Will you help us? Join a suicide awareness group or help out with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Talk to your legislators about securing funding for mental health and crisis organizations, and ask them to help make that funding a lasting priority. Talk to your family and friends about suicide, and let’s start treating it like a public health topic rather than a sin.
Most of all, let’s keep talking—and do it with respect and kindness in our hearts.
(My background: I run a suicide hotline and served for years on the national governing board for crisis hotlines. I teach several different suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention curricula, and if you’d like more information, please ask. Remember that if you need to talk to someone about thoughts of suicide, there’s probably a crisis hotline near you. 1-800-273-TALK is a great starting point anywhere in the USA.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mental Health First Aid Training

Mental Health First Aid Training (please forward)
The Campus Suicide Prevention Center of Virginia, in partnership with the The Planning Council and the Virginia Department of Health will sponsor the Mental Health First Aid course on July 1, 2014 in Norfolk, VA
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) teaches participants the skills needed to identify and support those with mental illnesses and substance use disorders. It is appropriate for all caregivers and natural helpers. 

MHFA is an 8-hour, highly interactive course that:
·     Provides an overview of mental illness and substance use disorders,
·     Introduces risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, as well as their impact on individuals,
·     Provides an overview of common treatments.
Participants who complete the course certify as “Mental Health First Aiders”; they learn the skills and resources needed to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate care.
To learn more, go to:  http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/cs/
Because of the generous support of the Virginia Department of Health's Division of Injury and Violence Prevention, this training will be offered at no cost; the course is typically valued at $250.  All training materials will be provided; lunch will be "on your own".

Space is limited to 25 participants per training.  Because of the demand for seats, please register only if you are able to attend the full 8 hour course.

Online registration is available at:  http://campussuicidepreventionva.org/eventmentalhealth.php

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Survivors of Suicide Loss Teleconference

The Staunton Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group will be hosting this teleconference at Augusta Health on November 23, the Saturday prior to Thanksgiving.  This event provides emotional support for survivors of suicide loss and information about resources for healing. 

Attached is a flyer to distribute electronically, and also links to a 2 minute trailer and a special preview of this year's program, that can be used to introduce the event.  Thank you for helping spread the word and we would welcome you also to attend.  We do a break out session after the live conference, where attendees who have suffered a similar loss (loss of child, spouse, friend, etc.) have group discussion, and have had great feedback in previous years.  This is our 5th annual teleconference!

·         Trailer to promote the November 23 event (2 minutes)

·         Special Preview of this year’s program (9 minutes)

 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Training Available in Central VA

Intervention


ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) is suicide intervention training for professionals and others who would like to know how to do a successful intervention with someone identified as at risk for suicide. ASIST is a 2 day workshop recommended for counselors, administrators, and any others interested. Participants must attend both full days of the training. To register, visit the Mental Health America of Central Virginia website, www.mhacv.org, or contact Amy Hart at 434.847.9055 or ahart@mhacv.org.

Thursday & Friday, June 20 & 21, 2013**

Thursday & Friday, August 15 & 16, 2013*

Thursday & Friday, December 12 & 13, 2013*

*Held at the Pearson Cancer Center, 1701 Thomson Dr., Lynchburg, VA from 8:30am to 4:30pm each day.

**Held at the United Way Building, 1010 Miller Park Sq., Lynchburg, VA from 8:30am to 4:30pm each day.

Participants must attend both days.



To learn more about how to host a training within your organization, please call Amy Hart at 434.847.9055.

All training provided by the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Grant and the Virginia Department of Health and sponsored by Mental Health America of Central Virginia.

Mental Health First Aid Training

The Campus Suicide Prevention Center of Virginia, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health and the Planning Council will host the Mental Health First Aid training on July 8-9 , 2013 in Norfolk, VA


Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) teaches participants the skills needed to identify and support those with mental illnesses and substance use disorders. It is appropriate for primary care professionals, employers and business leaders, faith communities, school personnel and educators, state police and corrections officers, nursing home staff, mental health authorities, state policymakers, volunteers, young people, families and the general public.

MHFA is a 12- hour, highly interactive course that:
• Provides an overview of mental illness and substance use disorders,
• Introduces risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, as well as their impact on individuals,
• Provides an overview of common treatments.

Participants who complete the course certify as “Mental Health First Aiders”; they learn the skills and resources needed to help an individual in crisis connect with appropriate care.

To learn more, go to: http://www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/cs/

Because of the generous support of the Virginia Department of Health's Division of Injury and Violence Prevention, this training will be offered at no cost. MHFA is typically valued at $200. All training materials will be provided; meals will be "on your own".

Space is limited to 30 participants per training. Because of the demand for seats, please register only if you are able to attend the full two days, and are not 'on-call' for other duties during that time.

To register, go to: http://campussuicidepreventionva.org/eventmentalhealth.php

SUICIDE PREVENTION TRAINING FOR MENTAL HEALTH CLINICIANS

Most mental health clinicians have had little or no formal training in assessing suicide risk, yet they are often called upon to do so. Recognizing and Responding to Suicide Risk: Essential Skills for Clinicians (RRSR) has been developed by the American Association of Suicidology specifically to fill this training gap. RRSR is an advanced, interactive training based on established core competencies that mental health professionals need in order to effectively assess and manage suicide risk in their patients. The program has several components, including a web-based assessment; two on-line, self-paced modules; a two-day face-to-face workshop; and post-workshop mentorship through on-line learning activities.

RRSR is appropriate for any mental health clinician working with patients on an ongoing basis. Participants can include licensed private counselors, licensed clinical social workers, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses, addiction counselors, licensed marriage and family therapists and pastoral counselors.

Additional information about RRSR is available at http://www.suicidology.org/web/guest/education-and-training/rrsr

The Virginia Department of Health will host 3 RRSR trainings in 2013. This training is for all mental health clinicians, regardless of your place of work. Some of you may be familiar with another suicide prevention training offered, ASIST. Please refer to the attached document for an explanation as to who should attend ASIST and who should attend an RRSR training.

Through a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) this training will be offered at no cost to 50 participants; the training is typically valued at $250 a participant. All training materials will be provided.

The training will be from 8:30-4:45 both days. One hour will be given for lunch; meals will be "on your own".

Because of the demand for seats, please register only if you are able to attend the full two days, and are not 'on-call' for other duties during that time.

2013 Training Dates, Locations, and Registration:

July 16-17, 2013
Martinsville, VA
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RRSRMartinsvilleJuly2013

July 23-24, 2013
Hampton, VA
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RRSRHamptonJuly2013

July 30-31, 2013
Harrisonburg, VA
https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/RRSRHarrisonburgJuly2013

Monday, April 22, 2013

Out of the Darkness Community Walk: Harrisonburg

Please join us for . . . .


The 3rd annual AFSP Out of the Darkness Campus Walk

Hosted by Chi Sigma Iota Honor Society
Sunday April 21st, 2013
Check-in/Registration 11:30 AM & Welcome Ceremony 12 noon
Festival Conference & Student Center
Harrisonburg, Virginia

To register, please click on the following link:

http://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=2241

This year's walk will again be held on the JMU campus. It will be a great opportunity for us to come together as a community to help increase awareness of suicide risks and warning sings, help people connect to vital resources that can increase their wellbeing, and honor those who have lost loved ones to suicide. Monies donated to AFSP go to help support their suicide prevention programs, support services for survivors of suicide loss, and vital research in the area of suicide prevention and suicide.

We will be looking for volunteers for the following positions: registration, set up, clean up, resource tables, advertising, EMTs/Nurses, and many other positions. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Janice Lewis at lewis2jc@dukes.jmu.edu or contact Sharon Lockaby at locabsd@dukes.jmu.edu.

We hope you will join us in our efforts to help raise awareness and support our community.