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How Can You Help Reduce Veteran Suicide?

Wounded Warrior Project conducts an ASIST workshop for first responders and community members to help teach them how to respond to someone who may be planning suicide.

What if asking someone about suicidal thoughts could make the difference between life or death? Would you ask? How do you know when and how to ask?

Raising awareness of veteran suicide and how to talk to veterans dealing with thoughts of suicide are the main principles behind Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) is one of many facilitators of this important two-day training that is taught across the country

ASIST workshops combine classroom-style education with possible real-life scenarios. Participants discuss attitudes surrounding suicide, including their own possible bias, and learn the importance of talking about suicide. WWP has conducted ASIST workshops since 2011 and this is our fifth year of hosting ASIST workshops for external partners and providers. This fiscal year WWP provided training to more than 300 participants, who also learn about warning signs, and how to offer assistance.

Learning the Techniques to Help Others

The training includes practice interactions that utilize the PAL (Pathway for Assisting Life) model, which focuses on building skills for connection and understanding. PAL model interactions include not only asking directly about suicidal thoughts, but figuring out why the person is struggling, the best way to assist them, and following up to make sure they’re getting the help they need.

Participants practice with instructors and each other, taking turns acting as the person struggling with thoughts of suicide and as the intervention specialist. Sometimes repeating the words and saying them aloud in front of others makes it more comfortable doing so in a real-world situation.

“There are always a lot of nerves wrapped around that, but I think that’s one of the most powerful parts of the class,” said U.S. Marine veteran Dan Hanson, an outreach specialist for Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP), and an instructor of ASIST. “It makes it a little less intense when you actually ask or are asked that question about suicide.”

Destigmatizing mental health and suicide is one of the best ways to combat it. Dan said a lot of people are afraid to talk about it because they’re worried they may say the wrong thing or concerned they won’t handle it properly. ASIST training helps give participants the tools to engage in that conversation and figure out a plan.

“It's unbelievable the impactful, heart-wrenching stories I hear in these ASIST classes,” Dan said. “People don't want to talk about [suicide] because it's uncomfortable. We just have to be comfortable with talking about tough stuff because too many people are dying.”

The workshop is primarily offered to first responders, including National Guard, WWP staff, community and corporate partners, health care providers, veteran caregivers, and other veterans service organizations.

Signs to Watch for and How to React

Knowing when it might be time to talk to someone about suicide is a complicated issue. One of the biggest red flags to look for is a shift in behavior, Dan said.

Other signs include:

  • Excessive substance use.
  • Not caring about appearance or abstaining from daily grooming habits.
  • Engaging in reckless behavior.
  • Comments like, “some days I just don’t want to wake up,” should be taken seriously and prompt a conversation.

“The ones who are going to be able to help someone struggling with thoughts of suicide go that extra step,” Dan said. “Don’t shrug it off as, ‘they’re probably having a rough day,’ but maybe it's more than that, so just caring enough to explore those invitations and be sure that that person isn't in a bad place.”

Wounded Warrior Project aims to help warriors build the connection with other veterans through peer support and alumni events. WWP also has free mental health programs designed to help warriors improve their mental well-being and build stronger relationships with their family members and caregivers.

The most important thing, however, is that warriors know they’re not alone. There’s strength in seeking help.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 (press 1), or texting 838255

Contact: — Paris Moulden, Public Relations, pmoulden@woundedwarriorproject.org, 904.570.7910

About Wounded Warrior Project

Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.

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