How Knowing the Signs Can Help Save a Life
Before I started working at the Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE), I did not have a clue as to what the warning signs of suicide, depression, and anxiety were. It wasn’t until I became a Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) instructor that I realized the importance of knowing the signs of mental health challenges. During my instructor training, taught by two amazing trainers from the National Council, I felt empowered to go back to my community and teach others important skills one can learn from the training. Knowing the signs of suicide can help save a life, yet the most challenging piece of knowing the signs is having the courage to start the conversation about suicide with someone you are concerned about.
In the YMHFA training, participants practice using a 5-step action plan called ALGEE, which stands for:
- Assess for risk of suicide or harm
- Listen nonjudgmentally
- Give reassurance and information
- Encourage appropriate professional help
- Encourage self-help and other support strategies
I was naïve to think that I would never have to use this action plan in my life until someone close to me had expressed thoughts of suicide to me a year ago. Amy* was in crisis at home when law enforcement was called to de-escalate the situation. Instead of de-escalating, the presence of law enforcement made matters worse for her. A week later, I was able to talk to Amy about the situation and wanted to show that I was there for her and wanted to listen. The conversation started out casual, like two friends talking about what they did over the weekend; I listened nonjudgmentally and said reassuring things like “that must have been really hard for you” and “I’m sorry that happened to you.” The conversation finally led to the point where I had to ask her if she had thoughts of suicide.
In YMHFA, we teach others to say the words “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” as confident as you can, because this not only can sound reassuring, but you will also get an honest answer. I felt a flutter of butterflies and like 20 pound weights were pushing me down. I became very nervous to even look at her because I knew she would see right through me when I asked. But I did it anyway. I was thankful for having taken YMHFA; however, nothing can prepare you for the moment. Although it was the hardest conversation I ever had, I was thankful for at least having the skills to talk about the darkest moment of someone’s life. I am also thankful that this person is alive today.
*name changed to protect privacy
Written by Natalie Andrade, ODE Program Coordinator, Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid