Saving lives from an unspoken epidemic

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Emerald Ralston
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs Office
If you had the ability to save the life of someone who was dying right in front of you, would you? 

If you were given the option to learn how to save that life, would you turn it down? Would you say "it's someone else's responsibility, not mine"? 

Or would you step up, learn the skills and save the life of a co-worker, a close friend, a family member or even a complete stranger? 

This isn't surgery we're talking about. It doesn't involve tourniquets or splints. All it involves is two days in a classroom and a willingness to step up and become an extremely valuable resource in the prevention of unnecessary death. 

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, ASIST for short, is a program geared toward preventing loss of life by suicide. The training that usually costs at least 90 dollars is available to members of Team Malmstrom for free and is invaluable to protecting our most valuable assets - our Airmen. 

We all get our annual suicide briefing and it seems no one wants to talk about it outside of that one-hour time frame. It's easy to pretend it doesn't happen here, that you'll never be affected by it and that it simply isn't an issue. 

But what happens when your Airman doesn't come in to work one morning? What happens when you tell your Airman's parents or spouse that their loved one has died due to self-inflicted injuries? Injuries that may not have been sustained had you or someone else in your office recognized the signs. 

Or maybe you did see the signs. Maybe you saw your Airman withdrawing from their friends or you saw a marked change in their demeanor over the past few weeks. You wanted to help, you knew you should, but something was stopping you. 

You didn't know how to intervene. 

ASIST is a course designed to train you for what to do when someone exhibits signs of suicidal behavior, or comes to you saying they are considering suicide. 

I took this course simply because suicide prevention is an issue close to my heart and I wanted to know what to do in the event I was ever faced with it again. I don't expect this issue to strike a chord with everyone, and I hope for your sake it never does affect you or anyone around you, but no one can know whether or not they'll be faced with a circumstance where suicide is right in front of them. 

It seems we're okay with talking about every issue that makes people uncomfortable, except suicide. We talk about STDs and have briefings on how to prevent them, how to avoid them, and what to do in case one is contracted. We talk about drunken driving prevention, avoidance and consequences. The same thing goes for sexual assault, discrimination, even child pornography. Some of the most uncomfortable issues are dealt with because the consequences are severe, so why are we so hesitant to talk about something with the ultimate consequence? 

Even in my attempt to search for information on suicide on my government computer for this article, almost every page that had anything to do with suicide, statistics, graphics, commentaries or just general information prompted only a screen reading: access denied; usage logged and monitored. 

As uncomfortable as it makes some people feel and as hard as it for some people to admit when they feel that way, suicide isn't always a choice. Most people who commit suicide aren't so much making the choice because they want to die, as they're simply at a level of emotional pain that exceeds their resources for coping with it. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to recognize that pain - to say it out loud and make them really think about what they're contemplating on the inside. 

From the most macho of men to the most sensitive of women, no demographic is exempt from suicide. In the same way, no demographic should neglect taking this course. If a wide array of people attend the training, Malmstrom's resource for preventing suicide goes up exponentially. 

The ASIST course will help give you a broader understanding of suicide, suicidal individuals and the stigmas and fears surrounding the topic. It will also give you methods to more comfortably approach someone you believe might be suicidal and what to do in the event that they confirm your fears. Interactive sessions with simulated suicidal individuals will give you the skills and confidence needed to do your best to save a life if you are even confronted with the situation. 

The course is taught by chaplains and subject matter experts from around the area. Although the next training isn't scheduled until March of next year, keep an eye out for these opportunities as they arise. Call the base chapel for more details at 731-3721. Lives may be in your hands - hands that will be capable to deal with this difficult, sensitive subject with a little effort and training.