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Family Connection moves to increase anti-suicide effort
Stephanie Dixon
Behavioral Health Link Region 5 Manager Stephanie Dixon discusses Applied Suicide Intervention Skills (ASIST) during Thursday’s Effiingham County Family Connection meeting. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

SPRINGFIELD — Every issue Effingham County Family Connection confronts is serious. That was especially the case on Thursday.

During their monthly meeting at the Effingham Health System Education Complex, about 40 members of the collaborative, which addresses challenges children and families face, agreed to boost their effort against suicide. They were spurred by Stephanie Dixon, Behavioral Health Link’s Region 5 manager who made a presentation about Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST).

ASIST is a two-day interactive workshop in suicide first-aid. It teaches participants to recognize when someone may have thoughts of suicide and how to work with them to create a plan that will support their immediate safety.

 The program is widely used by professionals and the general public. It is open to anyone 16 or older. More than 120,000 people receive ASIST training annually.

“It is intense,” Dixon said. “It requires two eight-hour days.”

Dixon said clinical experience isn’t necessary to make a difference against suicide.

“You can have zero experience, take this workshop, intervene and save somebody’s life,” she said. “... We want to train the general public because everyone knows there is a clinician shortage and, in Georgia, once you get out of Atlanta, it’s hard.

“We can’t do it all. We can’t expect the hospitals to do it all so we all need to do our part.”

The World Health Organization predicts that there  will be one suicide every 20 seconds this year.

“What we hear about is only the tip of the iceberg,” Dixon said. “We hear about the suicide deaths but we all know we aren’t hearing about all the suicide deaths because who determines the manner of death? The coroner.

“In communities where maybe the (affected) family is well known and respected, and we don’t want to put any shame on the family, (it’s ruled) accidental death. How many single-vehicle accidents are accidents at all?”

Dixon said the suicide rate is likely many times more than reported. She said 3-5 percent of the population is having suicidal thoughts at any given time.

In addition, Dixon said that a suicide impacts an average of 30 people.

“This is incredibly important to me because I am one of those people,” Dixon said. Ten years ago this month, I lost my dad to suicide. He was a veteran and he was law enforcement.”

ASIST helps to build regional networks of trained caregivers who can support each other and use common terminology to approach suicide and safety. Studies show that the ASIST method helps reduce suicidal feelings in those at risk and is a cost-effective way to help address the problem of suicide.

After training, ASIST participants should be able to:

— Recognize that caregivers and persons at risk are affected by personal and societal attitudes about suicide.

— Discuss suicide in a direct manner with someone at risk.

— Identify risk alerts and develop related safe plans.

— Demonstrate the skills required to intervene with a person at risk of suicide.

— List the types of resources available to a person at risk, including themselves.

— Make a commitment to improving community resources.

— Recognize that suicide prevention is broader than suicide first-aid and includes life promotion and self-care for caregivers.

“I found it incredibly helpful because of the focus on meeting the person where they are,” Dixon said. 

A show of hands indicated that all the collaborative members in attendance want to receive free ASIST training.  

To learn more about Family Connection or ASIST, call 912-429-5468.