First, I need to say I am not a mental health therapist, nor am I a psychologist or a psychiatrist. I can only share information through my experiences, the experiences of others, and information I’ve received in training through work. Maybe these little tidbits of information will help someone or at least get someone thinking and start a conversation.
Through our employment we often get opportunities to attend trainings. Most training revolves around interviewing, domestic violence or FASD or other topics related to our employment. As with most public services though, the topic of suicide, and working with people who are having a suicidal crisis has become much more prevalent.
Last year, I was able to attend the Third Annual First Responder Suicide Awareness Conference in Calgary, AB. It was a difficult honour to be able to attend this conference just over a year from Anthony’s passing. People from around the province attend to receive important, practical and useful information about mental health, the affects of working as a first responder( paramedics, fire fighters, police officers, correctional staff, child and protective services, etc) and how to reach out to get help and how to help others.
This year, two of our colleagues attended the fourth annual conference and gave us a debriefing about the main points of the information provided. I can’t speak to who used the analogy as I was not there myself, but our colleagues described one woman’s account of asking someone if they are suicidal and how to respond.
The main point she spoke of was “that it doesn’t matter how you get into the pool, you just need to get in”. Some people do a cannon ball into the cold water to get the uncomfortable over. They get cold, fast quick. Others, progressively and slowly walk down the ladder, waiting to adjust to the water the further in they go. Either way, each person finds their own way into the pool. All that matters is they have gotten in.
This is the same with having the conversation about and asking someone if they are thinking about suicide. Some people take a step by step approach while others take a quick leap and just ask the question ” Are you thinking of suicide?” It doesn’t matter how you do it as long as you do it. It’s going to be an uncomfortable situation and it’s not going to be easy but asking the question could save a life. You’re just going to have to get there, and it doesn’t matter how. All that matters is that you ask.
I would say I’m a ladder person. I’ve had this conversation with my clients, a friend, and of course with my husband. Each time I’ve had the conversation, I’ve used easier questions to gauge the crisis, before I’ve asked about suicidal thoughts, if they have a plan, if they have the means and if they have a time. I’ve asked easier to answer question step by step until I finally got to, “Are you thinking about suicide?”
I find this analogy refreshing, and easy to use because everyone has their own ways of doing things, whether it’s getting into a pool or getting on a bicycle or asking if someone is thinking about hurting themselves. Some take their time, some jump right into the task. Situations like these aren’t easy either way, and there is no wrong way of doing it, AS LONG AS YOU DO IT.
One other point that was discussed by my colleague that was hammered home by the presenters was its ok to pass the person off to another trusted person if you are to close to them to help. When Anthony came home from work one day with his head in his hands saying he couldn’t stop thinking of killing himself I was devastated, hurt, confused and angry that he could even think of taking his life. Then I felt nothing but guilt forever after. I didn’t know then I was to close to him to handle the situation without emotion. We managed that time, but not without some serious tears. I helped him look up the number for a Counsellor, and we got him a doctors appointment. He didn’t have a plan at that time. So referring out worked in the moment. Looking back I would have been better off to call a trusted friend, or family for support. I ended up calling in sick that afternoon and all I could do was cry. This was at the beginning of his illness.
There were several times after that required assessment to see if he was at risk of killing himself. Each time I handled it much better and each time, I got in the pool.
So just remember, it doesn’t matter how you get in the pool, just as long as you get in. You may need support, you may need to take your time, or you may need to cannon ball in; just get in!