Suicide First Aid as important as CPR

Monday, August 24, 2015   |   Scoop Independent News

Suicide prevention is everyone’s business and nothing says this clearer than the provisional coronial data for 2014/2015. With 569 suicides it’s fair to say that New Zealand has a lot of work to do.

No one knows this better than Jo Denvir, CEO of Lifeline Aotearoa. She is at the coalface, with a team of professionals and volunteers answering calls 24-7 from people in crisis. For many of these callers suicide is something they are thinking about.

With almost 50 years experience in crisis support, Lifeline knows a lot about suicide in New Zealand. After all, they run the country’s only Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 TAUTOKO and deliver the respected, evidence-based, suicideTALK, safeTALK and ASIST suicide prevention courses.

But Ms Denvir acknowledges that like most not-for-profit organisations, Lifeline is in a sector where need often outweighs the capacity to respond.

“There is so much more we can do. If we are serious about making a difference in this country we need to reach saturation point with training and education. We need people, organisations, industries to view ASIST suicide first-aid intervention skills as important as learning CPR,” says Ms Denvir.

She goes on to say “A recent international study proves people at risk of suicide feel significantly less suicidal and more hopeful about living after coming into contact with an ASIST trained person. This model works.”

One might wonder, isn’t crisis the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff? A question Ms Denvir is used to being asked.

“One in seventeen New Zealanders will have thoughts of suicide over the next two weeks. If people hear our message to seek help, talk to a loved one, or call Lifeline, then we are working at the top of the cliff. If people get ASIST trained so they know how to help, then we have increased the people working at the top.”

Ms Denvir is an advocate for open and direct talk about suicide. “If we avoid talk about suicide we avoid connecting with a persons needs. All the research points to open, direct talk about suicide, is key to preventing suicide and increasing safety.”

“People in crisis call Lifeline with a whole range of issues, often they are feeling pretty desperate and alone in their situation. Its this lethal combination of feelings that can lead to thoughts of suicide.”

Using a mix of paid professional staff and skilled volunteers, Lifeline is able to provide 24hr support. Ms Denvir implemented this employment mix when Lifeline merged in 2014 and believes it produces positive caller outcomes.

“There is a lot of evidence that suggests volunteers on a crisis-line are often as good and sometimes better than paid staff because of the empathy-factor.”

With a workforce made up of highly skilled professionals and a dedicated army of many, Lifeline is sure to make a difference for another 50 years.