“I had no idea there was a problem.”
This is the most common first response Travis McColley of Operation: 23 to Zero hears from family members who lose a loved one to suicide.
“The awareness is one thing, but how can we bring that number down?” is the question McColley asked himself.
To bring more knowledge of a difficult topic to the community, Operation: 23 to Zero invited Laurie Squier of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention to deliver a free three-hour safeTALK training Saturday morning in the Faribault American Legion meeting room. During the workshop, Squier provided information on how to recognize suicidal tendencies and get and get someone help.
“Let’s get people educated before they have a loss,” said McColley. “That’s the whole point.”
In Faribault, Sheriff Troy Dunn reported roughly two to three mental health calls related to self-harm occur per week. He estimated about one in 10 of those calls come from youths under 18.
Joan Van Dyke of Faribault, whose family has been affected by several suicides, said she’s researched the topic from the time she was very young to understand it better. She attended the safeTALK training to broaden her knowledge even further.
“Having the training to deal with [suicide] effectively is really important,” said Van Dyke. “Just knowing what to say, how to say it, and where the lines are that I shouldn’t cross is helpful.”
Bill “Doc” Schank, a veteran diagnosed with post-traumatic stress sisorder (PTSD), commended the trainers for their willingness to share an important message.
“From a survivor of a suicide attempt, this training will make a huge impact in bringing the suicide rate down,” said Schank.
During the workshop, Squier explained the “safe” part of safeTALK stands for Suicide Alertness for Everyone while “TALK” stands for the four preventative steps to take in the event of a suicide: Tell, Ask, Listen and KeepSafe.
Workshop attendees learned about several ways to identify a person contemplating suicide. Squier emphasized that any time a person explicitly says they are thinking about suicide needs to be taken seriously. Even if talk of being alone or a burden is cause for concern. She also noted several actions, like withdrawing from family and misusing alcohol or drugs, as possible indicators.
“We don’t want to concentrate on certain characteristics or demographics,” said Squier. “We want to watch out for anyone.”
In finding out if a person is thinking about suicide, Squier said the best bet is to get straight to the point and ask. She shared video clips of actors (who themselves completed safeTALK training) playing out scenarios in a couple different ways — one in which confidants either missed, dismissed or avoided the suicide question and another in which they confronted the victims.
The workshop also emphasized the importance of listening, keeping an open line of communication and connecting the person with a reliable resource. Following a script, training attendees paired up to practice the approach of helping someone contemplating suicide.
At the end of the training, attendees received certificates of completion as well as stickers to keep visible for those in need of help. On a final note, Kirk Mansfield of Operation: 23 to Zero shared a video of a man saying goodbye to his family before a suicide attempt. Luckily, Mansfield said someone saw the man’s post on social media and connected him with a resource that brought him to a better place today.
“This [training] is going to help us to generate some resources,” said Mansfield. “... We’ll definitely be in touch [with safeTALK] in the future to see if we can get a bigger group.”
It’s Mansfield’s hope that a future training fills the ballroom at the American Legion. Although the training was free, McColley said enough money was raised to make another safeTALK training possible in the near future.