SHERIDAN — Stigmas about mental health prevent people from seeking help, Johnson County prevention specialist Bill Hawley said.
The Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training gives community members the tools and skills to notice when someone is in crisis, he said.
People from Wyoming, Australia, to Sheridan have been trained with ASIST. It is the most widely used suicide intervention skills training in the world, Hawley said.
Sheridan County Prevention funded the two-day training program at the University of Wyoming Watt Agriculture Center Monday and Tuesday.
Thirteen trainees participated Tuesday, including law enforcement, health care workers and Sheridan community members.
The goal is for trainees to learn skills to use in personal and professional interactions — to validate another person’s pain and gain the confidence to ask whether someone is considering suicide, Hawley said.
“It’s suicide first aid, that’s the key,” he said. “It’s not about fixing people, it’s about keeping people safe and for me, that’s the beauty of this model.”
Sheridan County Community Prevention manager Ann Perkins said ASIST is part of a rekindled suicide prevention effort in Sheridan County and statewide. ASIST and other training programs help build capacity for suicide prevention in individual communities, she said.
While there are a few other instructors around the state, Hawley and Kristi Lipp are the only master ASIST trainers in Wyoming. Part of their work is rebuilding the state’s training capacity, Hawley said.
An internal battle
For people caught between choosing life or death, the ASIST model offers a third choice: finding safety in the moment, Hawley said.
ASIST is a straightforward model that anyone can learn and teaches people to de-escalate a situation, generate trust and connect with a person in the midst of that battle, he said.
“We just believe in the model because we know that it saves lives,” Hawley said.
Lipp said some can be intimidated by the idea that they are responsible for saving others’ lives. The ASIST training is like learning CPR, she said. It provides trainees with the tools to keep someone alive until a trained professional can take over. Lipp said she hopes a model like ASIST will someday be as common as learning CPR.
“Most people know CPR. But you and I are far more likely to encounter someone who’s struggling with the stuff of life, who’s struggling with their undiagnosed mental health concern,” Hawley said.
One of the goals of the training is to instill the courage and confidence to ask someone if he or she is considering suicide. Trainees practice with scenarios during the training to become more comfortable asking that uncomfortable question, Lipp said.
When someone senses another person struggling and asks if they are considering suicide, they may be the first person to recognize the depth of that person’s pain, Hawley said.
ASIST teaches trainees to connect with others and build trust — it can be challenging and uncomfortable to approach acquaintances or coworkers about their mental health appropriately and effectively, Hawley said. A suicide first aid caregiver’s role is to help bring a spark of hope in a dark situation, he said.
“In asking that question, we literally are giving people permission to throw up all over us, to talk about it, to release this darkness, probably for the first time,” Hawley said.
ASIST is also intended to start conversations in communities about how individuals and organizations can come together and address suicide prevention, Lipp said.
“It’s not feasible for us to train the entire community of Sheridan…but what it is feasible to do is to train those people who can then kind of be the center of that ripple effect,” she said.
Any community member can learn to listen, validate another’s experience and ask what they can do to help. Connection and understanding can lead to hope that can keep a person safe in the moment, Hawley said. Hawley and Lipp will lead the training in Buffalo Feb. 4-5.