The topic of suicide elicits reactions that span the emotional spectrum, differing for every person at every point in time. Admittedly, I react with two fiercely diametric positions when the word is simply spoken. Because of my friends’ suicide, I feel understanding of someone’s need to end their torment, but I also know the lifelong struggle of loved ones left behind as they contend to its reality in each aspect of their lives. The beauty of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is how it teaches helpers to leverage who they are — reactions, emotions, history, etcetera — to be who the person at risk needs them to be, at that moment.
Throughout the Pathway for Assisting Life (PAL) intervention, helpers abide by the fundamental principle that life can prevail if supported. Persons at risk of suicide, who have a sincere desire for suicide, and have developed a capability for suicide have both a wish to die and live simultaneously. This state is referred to as “ambivalence” or “uncertainty.” Depending on where a person at risk is on the pathway there may be less ambivalence, and it may seem they are fairly certain about death. However, even with those who enact a suicide plan and survive, follow up interviews reveal a clear wish to live after the plan was enacted.
This ambivalence originates from human nature, to survive and deserves serious exploration. It is hopeful as effectively working with ambivalence is one of the needs a person at risk of suicide has from the helper. Cautiously and wisely, ASIST helpers attend to this ambivalence and support the life force. By constantly returning autonomy, respect and support back to the person at risk, they journey together through reasons for dying, identify reason(s) for living, support turning and offer a third option to “stay safe for now” to move into deeper healing later.
The grant received that creates our Helping Others Provide Empathy (H.O.P.E.) Lab will strengthen our communities for it seeks out the light and the hope. Our hope is that through the program’s implementation we will equip others to support persons at risk to live connectedly. I am excited to be a part of this meaningful work!