Suicide Awareness Presentation

IntroductionSuicide Presentation Slide

The following is a presentation I prepared in 2012 on Suicide Awareness for delivery at Durham College. It’s just been sitting on my hard drive since then, so I’ve made it available for other organizations that wish to provide suicide awareness presentations. The content is reproduced below, and you can download the slides here. Although the content takes a Canadian focus, I’ve noted US statistics where possible.

Agenda

  • About Me
  • A Note on Wording
  • Definitions
  • Suicide Statistics
  • Suicide True and False
  • Risk Factors for Suicide
  • Warning Signs for Suicide
  • How to Help
  • Support Networks
  • Case Study

About Me

  • Currently Director of Online Support & Communication @ Distress Centre Durham
  • Distress Centre Durham History
    • 1600+ hours of telephone experience
    • 600+ hours of online chat and text
    • Former Placement Student, Summer Student (x3)
  • Trainer Experience
    • Distress Centre Durham Basic Training
    • DCIB Suicide Risk Assessment
    • Online Chat and Text (ONTX) Training

Before we start…

  • People do not commit suicide
  • You commit a crime, you get committed to a psychiatric hospital
  • Instead, people who take their own lives are said to have suicided or alternately died by suicide, as one dies of lung cancer or a person is murdered.

Definitions

  • Suicide – Intentional taking of one’s own life
  • Suicidal ideation – Clinical term for suicidal thoughts
  • Parasuicide
    • A suicidal attempt that is designed to fail or be discovered
    • Not necessarily attention-seeking behaviour

What is a Crisis?

A crisis is any event that overwhelms someone’s coping mechanisms, those things a person does to solve or deal with a problem

Suicide Statistics

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in Canada for 18-24 year olds (behind car accidents) (Statistics Canada, 2015)
  • More than 90% of suicide victims may have had diagnosable mental illness (Bertolote, et. al., 2004) – Note that there is still not consensus on this figure, it still makes an important point about mental health treatment for suicide
  • 21,115 people died by suicide in Ontario in 2005
  • The suicide rate is 12.7 per 100,000 males and 4.1 per 100,000 females in Ontario (Statistics Canada, 2014a)
  • The Aboriginal suicide rate is 11 times higher than the national average (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2011)

Risk Factors for Suicide (CDC, 2016)

  • Mental Illness
  • Clinical Depression, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Schizophrenia all increase risk
  • Financial Difficulties
  • Bullying (+ Cyber-bullying) for young adults
  • Relationship Troubles
  • Academic / School Troubles
  • Legal Problems
  • History of Physical / Sexual Abuse
  • Bereavement Grief and Loss
    • Especially a suicide-related loss
    • Interrupted (or “Complicated” Grief)

Suicide True and False

(See: Common Suicide Myths)

  • Most suicides involve drugs or alcohol…True! Up to 70% percent of suicides involve alcohol or drugs (Pompili, 2010)
  • Talking about suicide can plant the idea in someone’s head False! Most people feeling suicidal want to talk about their feelings
  • Teenagers have the highest rate of suicide False! The highest risk population is 45-54 years of age in Canada (Statistics Canada, 2014b), and in the US (CDC, 2014)
  • The most common suicide method is pills False! The most common method (overall) is hanging (in Canada: Statistics, 2016); in the US it is firearm: Barber & Miller, 2014)
  • Most suicidal people leave notes False! Only about 30% of suicides leave notes (Shioiri, et. al., 2005)
  • Suicidal people want to die False! Most suicidal people don’t want to die, but want the pain to stop

Suicide Risk Factors vs. Suicide Warning Signs

  • Risk Factors are things that increase the likelihood someone will suicide because those things make coping more difficult
  • Warning signs are clues that a suicidal crisis may be imminent
  • It takes careful clinical examination by a trained mental health professional to determine a person’s level of risk in the medium and long-term

Suicide Warning Signs (AAS, n.d.)

  • Sudden Mood changes (either very happy or very sad)
  • Sudden appetite changes
  • Talking about life in the past tense
  • Telling people goodbye, tying up loose ends
  • Talking about suicidal acts, feeling hopeless or helpless
  • Making lethality statements (“I wish I could fall asleep and not wake up”)

How to Help

  • Listen!
  • Provide empathy
  • Refer to resources
  • Distress Centre (1-800-452-0688, 905-430-2522)
  • Durham College Counselling Services
  • Durham Mental Health Services
  • Other resources (e.g. spiritual)
  • Explore options
  • Build support network

Support Network

  • Three levels of support
    • Internal
    • External
    • Peripheral
  • Strong support network allows developing the resources that provides the strongest defence against suicide
  • Internal Supports
    • Things that we do ourselves to cope with stress
    • Examples include:
      • Journalling
      • Listening to music / Playing an Instrument
      • Running / Working Out / Exercise
      • Prayer / Meditation / Spirituality
      • Art
      • Yoga / Massage
      • Deep Breathing
      • Other Hobbies
  • External Supports
    • People in our “inner circle” we reach out to
    • Examples include:
      • Family
      • Friends
      • Pets
  • Peripheral Supports
    • Community agencies and others outside of our inner circle
    • Examples include:
    • Distress Lines (e.g. Distress Centre)
    • Family Doctors
    • Psychiatrists / Psychologists
    • Durham Mental Health Services
    • Clergy

Summary

  • Suicide is usually preventable
  • Asking about suicidal thoughts is the most important thing you can do
  • Never be afraid to reach out to a professional for help

Case Study

The original training included a case study derived from Distress Centre Durham training materials.

References

American Association of Suicidiology (AAS). (n.d.) “Warning Signs | American Association of Suicidology. Retrieved on August 24, 2016 from www.suicidology.org/resources/warning-signs

Barber, C.W., Miller, M.J. (2014) Reducing a Suicidal Person’s Access to Lethal Means of Suicide: A Research Agenda. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 47(3S2):S264–S272

Bertolote, J. M., Fleischmann, A., De Leo, D., & Wasserman, D. (2004). Psychiatric Diagnoses and Suicide: Revisiting the Evidence. Crisis: The Journal Of Crisis Intervention And Suicide Prevention, 25(4), 147-155. doi:10.1027/0227-5910.25.4.147

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2011) Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved on August 24, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/index.html.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016) Suicide: Risk and Protective Factors. Retrieved on August 24, 2016 from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide/riskprotectivefactors.html

Pompili, M., Serafini, G., Innamorati, M., Dominici, G., Ferracuti, S., Kotzalidis, G. D., … Lester, D. (2010). Suicidal Behavior and Alcohol Abuse. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7(4), 1392–1431. http://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph7041392

Public Health Agency of Canada. The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada 2006. Ottawa, ON: Public Health Agency of Canada,  2011. Available at: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/human-humain06/

Shioiri, T., Nishimura, A., Akazawa, K., Abe, R., Nushida, H., Ueno, Y., & … Someya, T. (2005). Incidence of note-leaving remains constant despite increasing suicide rates. Psychiatry & Clinical Neurosciences, 59(2), 226-228. doi:10.1111/j.1440-1819.2005.01364.x

Statistics Canada. (2014a) “Suicides and suicide rate, by sex and by age group (Both sexes no.)” from CANSIM, table 102-0551. Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/hlth66a-eng.htm on August 24, 2016.

Statistics Canada. (2014b) “Suicides and suicide rate, by sex and by age group (Both sexes no.)” from CANSIM, table 102-0551. Retrieved electronically from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/hlth66a-eng.htm on August 24, 2016.

Statistics Canada. (2015) Table 102-0561 – Leading causes of death, total population, by age group and sex, Canada, annual, CANSIM (database). Retrieved on August 24, 2016.

Statistics Canada. (2016) Navaneelan, T. Suicide rates: An overview. Retrieved on August 24, 2016 from www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2012001/article/11696-eng.htm

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2016), "Suicide Awareness Presentation," retrieved on October 23, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/suicide-awareness-presentation/.
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Building a Suicide Prevention Group

Introduction

I’ve had the pleasure of serving on the Durham Region Youth Suicide Prevention (YSP) Action Group since February 2016. The goal of the YSP is to address the rising youth suicide rates in Durham Region in Ontario. This group was financially supported by a 3-year grant from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services.

For other regions interested in implementing similar suicide prevention groups (whether to address youth, elderly, military, or other targeted group suicide rates or others) the following may be helpful. Because my group was focused on youth suicide prevention, more of the resources below apply to that but the concepts are equally applicable to others.

Building Capacity

The first step is for your suicide prevention group to learn about suicide in your targeted population. Academic journals can be helpful in this way, as can other resources depending on the group you are looking for. I’ve linked some examples below, including a number of blog articles.

Learning About Adult Suicide

Learning About Elder Suicide

Learning About Law Enforcement Suicide

Learning About Male Suicide

Learning About Military Suicide

Learning About Youth Suicide

Choosing Your Suicide Prevention Group Members

In order to develop a suicide prevention group, you must identify individuals in the community who can participate. In order to be most effective, a suicide group should be cross-sectorial – that is, it should include individuals from a variety of stakeholders that are affected by that demographic. Examples of sectors and include:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Faith / Religion
  • Hospital / Medical
  • Mental Health
  • Substance Abuse

It is important to recognize that regardless of the group you target, many of these stakeholders will be relevant. For instance, in an elderly suicide prevention group, organizations that work with seniors directly (such as seniors centres, long-term care facilities and hospices) will be important, but faith-based organizations, substance abuse workers and criminal justice may provide valuable insight based on their work with elderly clients.

Conducting A Needs Assessment

Once you’ve identified the group of individuals who will make a part of your suicide prevention group, the next step is to conduct a needs assessment. Needs assessments are formal explorations of what exists in your community, and what does not. This allows you to identify the gaps and make a formal plan for eliminating those gaps.

Examples of completed needs assessment for suicide prevention include Shasta County, California and Juneau, Alaska.

This strategic planning tool from TogetherToLive can help you start your needs assessment process. This process should also include community consultation via surveys, focus groups or other methods to collect information from individuals who have lived experience with suicide in your community, especially in your target demographic.

Choosing Interventions

Now that you’ve conducted a needs assessment, you have an idea what elements are lacking in your community. Interventions fall into one of three categories:

  1. Universal Interventions apply to everyone in a particular area. For instance, all individuals who present to an emergency room are administered a suicide screening measure; this is a universal intervention
  2. Indicated Interventions apply to individuals who are identified as high-risk for suicide. For instance, students who appear to be experiencing emotional health issues are referred to school mental health counselling
  3. Selected Interventions apply to individuals who present with suicide risk factors or warning signs. These can include referrals to therapists, crisis lines or transportation to the hospital for emergency mental health treatment.

There are a variety of interventions that your suicide prevention group can choose, targeting four different categories. These categories are Life Promotion (or Primary Prevention), Suicide Prevention, and Postvention.

Life Promotion Interventions

Life promotion interventions are those that focus on “build[ing] their resilience through their personal strengths, available resources and relationships with those around them.” These interventions focus on individuals who haven’t yet experienced suicidality. For youth, this will involve programs about self-esteem, healthy relationships and problem-solving, while for soldiers this might include PTSD awareness, managing combat stress and accessing physical and mental health resources as needed.

Suicide Prevention Interventions

Suicide prevention interventions are those that focus on individuals who have expressed suicidal ideation or at risk for suicide. This is the most common category for intervention because these individuals have begun to slide down the river towards suicide.

  • Restricting Access to Means – Restricting access to lethal means involves training individuals to assess and remove lethal means like firearms or lethal quantities from suicidal individuals so that they are able to stay safer. (Johnson, et. al., 2011)
  • Web-Based Suicide Prevention/Support Services – These include online discussion boards and other resources that provide platforms for suicidal people to discuss their issues, crisis chat services and other web-based programs. The Best Practices for Online Technologies (Reidenberg, Wolens, & James, 2013) can help with this.
  • Suicide Prevention Training for Primary Care Physicians – Primary care physicians represent an important point of contact for suicidal individuals. Primary care physicians often report feeling undertrained to adequately respond to suicide (McDowell, Lineberry & Bostwick, 2011).
  • Suicide Screening – Suicide screening involves administering a tool to individuals without necessarily having identified suicide risk yet. This can be a universal or indicated method. The ED-SAFE study (discussed more under “Emergency Department and Follow-Up Care” explains the advantages of universal screening. Troister et. al. (2015) discusses three screening tools: the Beck Depression Inventory II (BDI-II), the Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS) and the Psychache Scale.
  • Gatekeeper Training – Gatekeeeper Training equips laypersons with the tools to recognize suicide risk and to connect with medium and long-term resources like crisis lines and therapy. Popular (and validated) crisis lines include ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training; Rogers, 2010) and QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer; Quinnett, 2012).
  • Suicide Hotlines and Crisis Lines – Suicide hotlines and crisis lines provide immediate emotional support, suicide risk assessment, crisis intervention and safety planning. They are an important element in the suicide prevention framework by catching individuals who may be very close to suicide. Crisis line outcomes have been studied (Kalafat, 2007; Gould, et. al., 2007) and found to have a range of benefits to callers.
  • Psychological Treatment / Psychiatric Treatment – Psychological and psychiatric treatment includes therapy, counselling, medication and a range of other treatments that are available and provided by mental health clinicians. The availability of mental health treatment can have an impact on the suicide rate. (Jagodic, 2013; Kapusta, et. al., 2010)
  • Emergency Department and Follow-Up Care – Emergency departments represent an important access point for mental health care. Universal screening with the ED-SAFE Tool has been shown to double the rate of detected suicide versus a control population. (Boudreaux, et. al., 2015) Additionally follow up has been shown to reduce the rate of re-admission. (Harrison, et. al., 2011)
  • Reducing the Harmful Use of Alcohol – Substance abuse is significantly related to suicidal behaviour. (Wilcox, Conner, & Caine, 2004) By assessing the risk of substance abuse and putting in place treatment options for the targeted population, the impact of addiction or harmful use of substances, including alcohol can be reduced.

Postvention Interventions

Postvention interventions refer to those items that are implemented in the aftermath of a suicide death. A number of interventions are listed on the TogetherToLive Postvention section. Some of these resources are explored below:

  • Provide immediate debriefing and information to survivors helps reduce the impact of the loss (Cox et. al., 2012; Parsons, 1996; Celotta, 1995; King, 1999) This debriefing should provide psychoeducation on grieving, depression and potential post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while also emphasizing the importance of grieving.
  • Identify individuals at high risk and reach out to them (Celotta, 1995; Carter & Brooks, 1990). How this occurs will differ depending on the targeted population but it is important that a system is in place to refer individuals for support (an indicated risk strategy) and ensure that all those affected know how to reach out.
  • Ensure the media provides a respectful response to the suicide that acknowledges its impact without glorifying it (Bohanna & Wang, 2012; MediaWise, 2003) Safe messaging strategies can be implemented to reduce the risk of suicide contagion

Implementing Your Interventions

Once you’ve determined the interventions you would like to choose, you must begin to implement them. This can be accomplished by breaking your suicide group into sub-teams that focus on specific interventions. This allows you to begin to tweak your approach by seeing your chosen interventions applied in actual practice. Examples of implementations for some of the above interventions could include:

  • Providing ASIST gatekeeper training to local community members
  • Arranging for training of primary care physicians in suicide risk assessment
  • Distributing posters with information on local crisis lines in schools
  • Working with the hospital to deliver follow-up calls to patients seen in the Emergency Department for mental health issues

This effort usually requires support from the agencies involved (such as the hospital, the school, etc.) and therefore it is helpful if these individuals are present on your suicide prevention group.

Evaluating Your Suicide Prevention Group

Once you’ve implemented your interventions, evaluation will help you see the impact of your suicide prevention group activities. The exact method in which you measure your impact will differ depending on the interventions you choose, but could include things like:

  • Tracking the number of calls to local crisis lines or admissions to hospital for suicide-related behaviours
  • Counting the number of people you delivered gateekeeper training to
  • Providing pre and post-assessment surveys to gauge learning by people attending trainings
  • Measuring the suicide rate in your community or in your demographic

Ensuring that you have an evaluation plan designed before you implement your interventions will prevent you from forgetting to collect data or collecting the wrong data. Your suicide prevention group can then review this information and tweak your strategy as time goes on, altering the strategy or focusing on new interventions and goals.

References

Bohanna, I., & Wang, X. (2012). Media guidelines for the responsible reporting of suicide: A review of effectiveness. Crisis: The Journal Of Crisis Intervention And Suicide Prevention, 33(4), 190-198. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000137

Boudreaux, E., Allen, M., Goldstein, A.B., Manton, A., Espinola, J., Miller, I. (2015) Improving Screening and Detection of Suicide Risk: Results from the Emergency Department Safety Assessment and Follow-up Evaluation (ED-SAFE) Effectiveness Trial. Society for Prevention Research 23rd Annual Meeting. Accessed Jun 28 2015 from https://spr.confex.com/spr/spr2015/webprogram/Paper23206.html

Carter, B.F., Brooks, A. (1990) Suicide postvention: Crisis or opportunity?. School Counselor. 37(5)

Celotta, B. (1995) The aftermath of suicide: Postvention in a school setting. Journal of Mental Health Counseling. 17(4)

Cox, G.R., Robinson, J., Williamson, M., Lockley, A., Cheung, Y.T.D., Pirkis, J.  (2012) Suicide Clusters in Young People Evidence for the Effectiveness of Postvention. Crisis. 33(4) 208-214 doi: : 10.1027/0227-5910/a000144

Gould, M. S., Kalafat, J., HarrisMunfakh, J. L., & Kleinman, M. (2007). An evaluation of crisis hotline outcomes part 2: suicidal callers. Suicide And Life-Threatening Behavior, (3), 338.

Harrison, P. L., Hara, P. A., Pope, J. E., Young, M. C., & Rula, E. Y. (2011). The impact of postdischarge telephonic follow-up on hospital readmissions. Population Health Management, 14(1), 27-32. doi:10.1089/pop.2009.0076

Jagodic, H. K., Rokavec, T., Agius, M., & Pregelj, P. (2013). Availability of mental health service providers and suicide rates in Slovenia: a nationwide ecological study. Croatian Medical Journal, (5), 444. doi:10.3325/cmj.2013.54.444

Johnson, R. M., Frank, E. M., Ciocca, M., & Barber, C. W. (2011). Training Mental Healthcare Providers to Reduce At-Risk Patients’ Access to Lethal Means of Suicide: Evaluation of the CALM Project. Archives Of Suicide Research, 15(3), 259-264. doi:10.1080/13811118.2011.589727

Kalafat, J., Gould, M. S., Harris Munfakh, J. L., & Kleinman, M. (2007). An evaluation of crisis hotline outcomes part 1: nonsuicidal crisis callers. Suicide And Life-Threatening Behavior, (3), 322.

Kapusta, N. D., Posch, M., Niederkrotenthaler, T., Fischer-Kern, M., Etzersdorfer, E., & Sonneck, G. (2010). Availability of mental health service providers and suicide rates in Austria: a nationwide study. Psychiatric Services, 61(12), 1198-1203. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.61.12.1198

King, K. (1999) High School Suicide Suicide Postvention: Recommendations For an Effective Program. American Journal of Health Studies. 15(4).

Lapierre, S., Erlangsen, A., Waern, M., De Leo, D., Oyama, H., Scocco, P., & … Quinnett, P. (2011). A systematic review of elderly suicide prevention programs. Crisis: The Journal Of Crisis Intervention And Suicide Prevention, 32(2), 88-98. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000076

McDowell, A. K., Lineberry, T. W., & Bostwick, J. M. (2011). Practical suicide-risk management for the busy primary care physician. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, (8), 792.

MediaWise. (2003) The Media and Suicide. Accessed electronically from http://www.mediawise.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/The-Media-and-Suicide-.pdf on November 26, 2016.

Parsons, R.D. (1996) Student suicide: The counselor’s postvention role. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 31(1)

Reidenberg, D., Wolens, F. & James, C. (2013). Responding to a cry for help: Best practices for online technologies. Retrieved on November 26, 2016 from http://www.sprc.org/resources-programs/responding-cry-help-best-practices-online-technologies

Rogers, P. (2010) Review of the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training Program (ASIST). LivingWorks. Retrieved on November 26, 2016 from https://www.livingworks.net/dmsdocument/274.

Troister, T., D’Agata, M. T., & Holden, R. R. (2015). Suicide risk screening: Comparing the Beck Depression Inventory-II, Beck Hopelessness Scale, and Psychache Scale in undergraduates. Psychological Assessment, 27(4), 1500-1506. doi:10.1037/pas0000126

Quinnett, P. (2012) QPR Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention The Model, Theory and Research. QPR Institute. Retrieved on November 26, 2016 from https://www.qprinstitute.com/uploads/QPR%20Theory%20Paper.pdf.

Wilcox, H. C., Conner, K. R., & Caine, E. D. (2004). Association of alcohol and drug use disorders and completed suicide: an empirical review of cohort studies. Drug And Alcohol Dependence, 76(Supplement), S11-S19. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2004.08.003

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2016), "Building a Suicide Prevention Group," retrieved on October 23, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/building-suicide-prevention-group/.

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What is Nu-Rekall Mind Science?

Introduction

As a supporter of evidence-based treatment (EBT), and someone who endeavours to cite my sources and back up my claims wherever possible, I find the lack of science in some circles really frustrating. I recently stumbled upon an organization called International Suicide Prevention run by Matthew D. Dovel that makes very fantastic claims about the effectiveness of a treatment or set of treatments called “Nu-Rekall” on mental health and suicide, unmatched by any other treatment and without any peer reviewed studies to support their efficacy.

Naturally, my curiosity was piqued, but the Nu-Rekall treatment is vague and the proprietor, as I explain below, appears not to have the background necessary to treat mental health disorders. My hope with this article is to stimulate discussion on EBT, and to publicly challenge Mr. Dovel to bring his work in-line with established best practices.

All the quoted content below is used within the DMCA and 17 U.S.C. § 107 on Fair Use in the United States and § 29.1 of the Copyright Act of Canada.

Matthew D. Dovel

Matthew Dovel says on his website that he is a suicide prevention expert. He also says he is a scientist. Everyone has different criteria for that word, but I would define a scientist as someone who contributes to the body of knowledge in a field through academic scholarship, like publishing in a journal.

His academic education includes:

  • Charter College-Anchorage (2 years), took Computer Aided Drafting (CAD)
  • University of Nevada-Las Vegas (3 years), majored in Civil Engineering and minored in Psychology and Business. It’s unclear if Dovel earned a degree here.
  • Palomar College (2 years), he indicates mostly computer-related topics but may have taken a couple Psychology courses

In addition to these formal educational pursuits Dovel also notes PSI Seminars and other self-help workshops. There is no evidence that he has participated in any training or education related to Social Work, Psychology, Medicine or an allied field relevant to mental health, nor has he indicated any evidence-based training in suicide intervention like Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), QPR, or others.

Since March 2015, Dovel has sat on the Editorial Board of the prestigious-sounding International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience which is published by OMICS Group. That someone can sit on an editorial board with no graduate study or published literature themselves is worrisome. That journal is not indexed by PubMed or other reputable warehouses for scientific data, like most of the OMICS Group journals.

His LinkedIn proclaims that “There is no one better than I am at preventing suicides!”, I have my doubts.

Dovel has written a book called “Life After Death” chronicling two Near Death Experiences (NDE). It appears to be these NDE, not his suicide prevention work, that led him to be profiled on Good Morning America (you can see that interview here), A&E and 20/20. This is clearly stated on his LinkedIn in the publications section, but is less clear in other areas, such as the about page of his organization ISP (detailed below) where he states under a column about partnerships with ISP “As seen on:CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, ESPN, Coast to Coast, Good Morning America, 20/20,.” This is very misleading.

Some of his other (self) publications include:

Other potentially misleading items include an article titled “Psychology Today: Abstract – New Treatments that Cure Suicidal Ideation“. This article has no connection to the magazine Psychology Today but rather that is part of the article’s title.

International Suicide Prevention (ISP)

International Suicide Prevention is Dovel’s charity. It is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit (EIN#20-4671131), though its Form 990 indicates less than $25,000 in revenue.

On the contact page, there is an opportunity to buy posters promoting ISP with their 24/7 helpline number (which Dovel claims he answered himself for 10 years.) There is no attribution indicating he has permission to use the intellectual property of Fox, which owns the rights to the Fry character from the TV series Futurama. Update: Dec-20-2016: This image has been removed, though other potentially infringing images may remain.

On the page for law enforcement targeted initiatives, Dovel notes that his Suicide Prevention Guide Booklet has been “endorsed by mental health professionals, doctors, and advanced behavioral studies experts as a viable solution to drastically reduce suicide rates.” Although he does list one endorsement by a Psychologist in the back of the handbook, the other individual listed is a neurolinguistic programming practitioner. There is insufficient evidence to support the efficacy of NLP (Sturt, et. al., 2012).

On an ISP page listing endorsements Dovel lists an orthopedic surgeon (Andrea E. Salvi) as endorsing his material. This surgeon is also a Board Member of an OMICS Group Journal, and appears to have has no professional experience in psychology or suicide. I can find no evidence to support Salvi’s assertion that he has performed any work for the US military.

Nu-Rekall

Nu-Rekall (trademarked) is the basis for the treatments that Dovel promotes. The website claims that “Nu-Rekall™ has self-help procedures that are completely autonomous removing suicidal ideation permanently.” Dovel does not link to any peer-reviewed studies evaluating his techniques. Dovel claims he helps over 200 individuals daily, but as this page suggests, he is likely counting every visitor to his website as a client he has delivered service to.

He charges nearly $5,000 on his website for training in his Nu-rekall methods.

4 Phase Model

Dovel does actually describe his 4 phase model on one page. I’ve paraphrased it here to the best of my ability.

  1. The client should ask themselves how long they’ve been suicidal and what occurred at the time those suicidal thoughts started?
  2. Next, because the treatment can cause amnesia, the client fills out a questionnaire about the event that triggered the suicidal thoughts and its emotional intensity
  3. Now the client imagines the event occurring again, but changes details about it (such as altering the weather)

No peer-reviewed studies are provided to explain why this movement technique is supposed to have any impact on one’s suicidality or emotional state, and ignores that for many people suicidal thoughts are not caused by a single distressing event but rather a constellation of risk factors, with no identifiable cause at all (see the Suicide Prevention Resource Centre’s list of suicide risk factors, the majority of which are not negative life events.)

Suicide Prevention Guide Booklet (SPGB)

This booklet (running 32 pages with wide margins and a large font) includes two ad spaces, both unused. Rather than go through the book line by line I’ve picked out some quotes for commentary.

“it takes fewer muscles to smile than to get angry according to Japanese’s” (this article confirms the origins of the concept that it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown are uncertain; there’s no evidence suggesting they are Japanese.)

“Education has been shown to be the best method for reducing suicide rates.” Certainly, training gatekeepers is important. But educating clients themselves in methods of self-help has a limited contribution to the suicide rate when compared to broad community interventions that works on multiple levels, as Fountoulakis, Gonda, & Rihmer (2011) explain.

“According to scientific research humans have only two core emotions: love, and fear.” This is also incorrect. It used to be thought that there were 6 core emotions (anger, fear, surprise, disgust, happiness and sadness), although research from the University of Glasgow (Jack, Garrod & Schyns, 2014) suggests four (anger, fear, happiness, sadness.)

Russell (2003; 2009) conceptualizes “core affect” as the idea of feeling either good or bad – but there are no studies that I could find indicating two core emotions of love and fear.

“At the University of Berkley, California a study was done on a group of Manic Depressants with just the following self-therapy for one year. At the end of the year ALL were declassified as Manically Depressed.” Note the spelling errors and the use of the outdated term “manic depressive” (manic depression was replaced in the DSM-III in 1980 with “bipolar disorder”) while person-centered language would suggest calling the participants “people with bipolar disorder” instead. There’s is no citation listed and I would doubt if any such study ever existed.

“Top two reasons for a suicide attempt[:] The sudden change of status for an individual’s: romantic, and/or financial situation.” While there is support to the idea that relational changes commonly precede a suicide attempt (e.g. Yen et. al., 2005; Bagg, Glenn & Lee, 2013; Conner, et. al., 2012) that is because social support is an important buffer to suicide. (Gonçalves, et. al., 2014; Kleiman, Riskind, & Schaefer, 2014; Farrell, Bolland & Cockerham, 2014; Kleiman, et. al., 2012; Hirsch & Barton, 2011)

While Hempstead & Phillips (2015) notes that financial issues can lead to suicide, “mental illness, health problems, and other personal issues [and] access to lethal means also importantly affects suicide risk.” It appears that financial issues only commonly precede suicide in middle age.

Near the end is an “EMR” (Emotional Memory Removal) chart that requires an individual to think about a strong emotion while raising or lowering their hands (the chart indicates when to do which) and saying a number out loud, and then repeating the process but raising an arm and a leg. No sources are provided for why this would be effective.

Dovel’s Study

I reached out to Dovel for some clarification on the evidence-base for his work. He responded linking me to some of the sources that you see above. He also linked me to this suggested evaluation of his techniques.

The way the study appears to be constructed was that Dovel would have each participant rate their suicidal thoughts on a scale of 1-10. Then they would perform the Nu-Rekall procedures and receive a follow up call at 1 week, 1 month and 6 months to determine if the level of their intensity increased or decreased, and whether they had demonstrated any suicidal behaviour.

There are a number of methodological issues with this study that would prevent it from being accepted for peer review. Just a few that come to mind:

  • He indicates he had 500 volunteers (gender-matched exactly 50/50), but he only started with 60. Each month he surveyed other callers for a total of 500 surveys. If that’s the case, there is not 6 months of continuous data (as in a longitudinal design) for 500 people, there is 6 months of data for 60 people, severely limiting the usefulness of the large sample size.
  • There is a failure to define intensity (how do you verify a change if you’re not defining the variables?)
  • There is a failure to define suicidal behaviour or how he determined there was no recurrence in suicidal behaviour
  • There is a failure to control for the impact that emotional support from any helper would provide (a control group where someone received supportive check-ins without doing Nu-Rekall would have showed this)

Best Practices and Recommendations

I invite Dovel to follow some recommendations for himself, his website and the Nu-Rekall program. These include:

  • Taking a proper suicide intervention training like ASIST so that he can incorporate the evidence-base into his literature
  • Change references to the ISP helpline number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) until such time as Dovel has completed helpline training through an NSPL or AAS-accredited crisis line. This will ensure he is competent to perform suicide risk assessment
  • Consider completing the AAS Crisis Worker certification
  • Write up a proper proposal for a study of the Nu-Rekall techniques that includes repeatable methods, proper controls, and results and then having that study performed by an independent third party
  • Get that study peer-reviewed and published in a PubMed-indexed journal to open it to critique
  • Remove references to media like Good Morning America and 20/20 from the ISP websites so that visitors are not misled into thinking those appearances were related to suicide prevention work; make it clear those appearances were focused on near-death experiences
  • Provide citations for claims throughout existing pamphlets (like the UC Berkeley study noted above)

References

Bagge, C. L., Glenn, C. R., & Lee, H. (2013). Quantifying the impact of recent negative life events on suicide attempts. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 122(2), 359-368. doi:10.1037/a0030371

Conner, K. R., Houston, R. J., Swogger, M. T., Conwell, Y., You, S., He, H., & … Duberstein, P. R. (2012). Stressful life events and suicidal behavior in adults with alcohol use disorders: Role of event severity, timing, and type. Drug & Alcohol Dependence, 120(1-3), 155-161. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2011.07.013

Sturt, J., Ali, S., Robertson, W., Metcalfe, D., Grove, A., Bourne, C., & Bridle, C. (2012). Neurolinguistic programming: a systematic review of the effects on health outcomes. The British Journal Of General Practice: The Journal Of The Royal College Of General Practitioners, 62(604), e757-e764. doi:10.3399/bjgp12X658287

Farrell, C. T., Bolland, J. M., & Cockerham, W. C. (2014). Original article: The Role of Social Support and Social Context on the Incidence of Attempted Suicide Among Adolescents Living in Extremely Impoverished Communities. Journal Of Adolescent Health, doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.08.015

Fountoulakis, K. N., Gonda, X., & Rihmer, Z. (2011). Review: Suicide prevention programs through community intervention. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 13010-16. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2010.06.009

Gonçalves, A., Sequeira, C., Duarte, J., & Freitas, P. (2014). Suicide ideation in higher education students: influence of social support. Atencion Primaria, 46(Supplement 5), 88-91. doi:10.1016/S0212-6567(14)70072-1

Hempstead, K. A., & Phillips, J. A. (2015). Research Article: Rising Suicide Among Adults Aged 40–64 Years. The Role of Job and Financial Circumstances. American Journal Of Preventive Medicine, 48491-500. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2014.11.006

Hirsch, J. K., & Barton, A. L. (2011). Positive Social Support, Negative Social Exchanges, and Suicidal Behavior in College Students. Journal Of American College Health, 59(5), 393-398. doi:10.1080/07448481.2010.515635

Jack, R. E., Garrod, O. G., & Schyns, P. G. (2014). Dynamic Facial Expressions of Emotion Transmit an Evolving Hierarchy of Signals over Time. Current Biology, (2), 187. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.064

Kleiman, E. M., Riskind, J. H., & Schaefer, K. E. (2014). Social Support and Positive Events as Suicide Resiliency Factors: Examination of Synergistic Buffering Effects. Archives Of Suicide Research, 18(2), 144-155. doi:10.1080/13811118.2013.826155

Kleiman, E. M., Riskind, J. H., Schaefer, K. E., & Weingarden, H. (2012). The moderating role of social support on the relationship between impulsivity and suicide risk. Crisis: The Journal Of Crisis Intervention And Suicide Prevention, 33(5), 273-279. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000136

Russell, J.A. (2003) Core Affect and the Psychological Construction of Emotion. Psychological Review. 110(1). 145-172. DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.110.1.145

Russell, J. A. (2009). Emotion, core affect, and psychological construction. Cognition & Emotion, 23(7), 1259-1283. doi:10.1080/02699930902809375

Yen, S., Pagano, M. E., Shea, M. T., Grilo, C. M., Gunderson, J. G., Skodol, A. E., & … Zanarini, M. C. (2005). Recent Life Events Preceding Suicide Attempts in a Personality Disorder Sample: Findings From the Collaborative Longitudinal Personality Disorders Study. Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology, 73(1), 99-105. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.73.1.99

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2016), "What is Nu-Rekall Mind Science?," retrieved on October 23, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/nu-rekall-mind-science/.

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Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention

Introduction

Organizations like the Tema Conter Memorial Trust in Canada and Reviving Responders in the US have highlighted the skyrocketing rate of suicide among first responders, including police officers, paramedics and firefighters. In 2015, there were over 100 suicides by law enforcement officers in the US. (Kulbarsh, 2016) They note the high incidence of PTSD among law enforcement officers and the stigma that prevents them from seeking support.

One way to reduce law enforcement suicide is through police academy training that provides all officers with suicide awareness training. This helps reduce the stigma of receiving mental health support and gives police the opportunity to act as peer supporters for their colleagues.

Overview of Curriculum

The material below comes from the Basic Course for Police Officers authored by the New Jersey Police Training Commission (2016). This 262-page manual provides a complete review of the curriculum that police officers in that state learn during their 24 weeks at the Academy.

One of the instructional units is named “Suicide Awareness and Prevention for the Law Enforcement Officer”. The description is as follows:

The trainee will understand the causes, symptoms, warning signs and risks associated
with officer suicide, and will identify appropriate intervention and prevention strategies
to effectively deal with this issue.

The outcomes of this module are as follows. Once completed, the police recruit will be able to:

  • Define suicide
  • Identify demographics associated with law enforcement suicide
  • Know stressors that contribute to suicide
  • Explain risk factors associated with suicide
  • Identify warning signs associated with suicide
  • Understand suicide myths
  • Explain and apply the AID LIFE acronym for intervening with suicide
  • Identify obstacles to effective suicide intervention
  • Note professional resources helpful to an officer
  • Identify strategies to prevention law enforcement suicide

The content from these modules is summarized below, but I’ve added references where appropriate to back up the un-cited information. The goal is to provide added-value and confirm the veracity of the material.

Defining Suicide

Suicide is defined as the intentional taking of one’s own life (Stedman, 2016).

Demographics of Law Enforcement Suicide

  • There are more deaths to police suicide than in the line-of-duty (Kulbarsh, 2016)
  • The police officer life expectancy is less than the general population (Violanti, 2013)
  • The suicide rate is approximately 14 deaths per 100,000 (Badge of Life, n.d.) compared to 13 per 100,000 in the general population (AFSP, 2014)
  • Although the curriculum maintains that the divorce rate is higher among police officers, the opposite is actually true. The divorce rate is slightly lower, at 14.47% versus 16.96% for all professions over the lifetime (Roufa, 2015)
  • The rate of substance abuse is higher among police officers (Cross & Ashley, 2004)

Stressors Contributing to Law Enforcement Suicide

In addition to the normal stressors such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and relationship issues, the curriculum identifies some specific job-related stressors. These include:

  • Discipline issues (internal affairs and/or
    criminal investigations); and
  • Management issues (assignment – lack of promotion – supervision);
  • Retirement (loss of identity and sense of belonging).
  • Shift work;
  • Sleep deprivation;
  • Unfulfilled job expectations;

Risk Factors Associated with Law Enforcement Suicide

This section identifies historical, demographic risk factors that may increase suicide. These are listed below, and correspond to those in the SAD PERSONS Scale and the CPR Risk Assessment:

  • Knowledge of and access to lethal means;
  • Age;
  • Gender;
  • Ethnicity;
  • Previous history (self or family member);
  • Cumulative stressors;
  • Feeling of hopelessness and helplessness; and
  • Lack of intervention resources.

Warning Signs of Law Enforcement Suicide

Warning signs, as defined by the AAS (n.d.) are items that represent an imminent, increased risk (active factors) rather than the stable historical factors that don’t necessarily represent increased risk. For instance, being a male does not itself mean someone is suicidal, but being a man does increase the chances someone will die.

The warning signs listed in the curriculum (reproduced verbatim below) represent a mix of risk factors and AAS-type warning signs.

  • Depression:
    • Attitude of hopelessness and helplessness;
    • Unexplained changes in appetite, weight, appearance, and/or sleep habits;
    • Difficulty making decisions;
    • Difficulty concentrating;
    • Overly anxious;
  • Previous suicide attempt;
  • Increase in the use of alcoholic beverages;
  • Overly aggressive or violent behavior;
  • Any changes in mood or behavior that are out of the ordinary, including a neutral mood;
  • Changes in work habits;
  • Behavioral clues of suicidal thoughts:
    • Giving away possessions;
    • Making a will;
    • Talking about a long trip;
    • Sudden interest or disinterest in religion;
    • Substance abuse relapse; and
    • Taking inappropriate duty-related and personal risks.
  • Anger / irritability; and
  • Concern expressed by family / friends / colleagues about a specific individual;

Identifying Common Suicide Myths

The myths that are discussed here include:

  • People who talk about suicide won’t attempt
  • Talking about suicide with someone does not reduce their risk
  • Warning signs are not present before a person dies by suicide
  • Suicidal individuals must have a mental illness
  • Suicidal individuals are beyond help
  • Suicidal individuals are committed to dying

See my article on suicide myths for a more complete discussion of these

AID LIFE for Suicide Intervention

AID LIFE is an acronym that is given in the training for a simple intervention procedure. The steps in AID LIFE are as follows:

  • A – Ask if the individual is thinking about suicide
  • I – Intervene immediately. Listen and let the person know they are not alone.
  • D – Don’t keep their suicidal thoughts a secret. Seek assistance
  • L – Locate help. This can include a supervisor, chaplain, physician, or other members of their support network. (Including crisis workers or the Emergency Room.)
  • I – Inform the Chain of Command. This can help get important resources like counselling in place.
  • F – Find someone to stay with the individual. (Dustin’s note: I’m actually not a big fan of this one, it shows up in the Marine Corps suicide awareness program as well; this is more important for high-risk, imminent suicide than it is for someone who may be low or moderate risk.)
  • E – Expedite. Get help now, rather than delaying it.

Obstacles to Effective Suicide Intervention

These obstacles are reproduced directly from the manual and include a variety of police-specific and more general obstacles to effective intervention with police officers who are struggling with suicidal thoughts.

  • Fear of stigma, isolation, humiliation, suspension, job loss;
  • Fear of change in duty status;
  • The police culture; (seeking mental health support may be perceived as a character weakness)
  • Denial that there is a problem; (by the officer, peer officers, supervisors, the command staff)
  • Reluctance of the officer to seek help for fear of the officer losing control of the situation;
  • The officer’s fear that confidentiality will not be maintained;
  • The officer’s distrust of management;
  • Supervisors and peers who protect or shield a troubled officer; and
  • Lack of knowledge by a troubled individual about the availability of counseling resources, and concern about being able to afford such services.

Professional Resources for Law Enforcement Suicide

Although this is a New Jersey Police manual, the resources presented are general enough to be a good reference. The resources that are recommended include:

  • Crisis Line
  • Employer Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Faith-based support (e.g. Chaplain or Church official)
  • Hospital emergency room
  • Mental Health Counselling (in person or otherwise)
  • Peer Support (from another officer or supervisor)

Strategies to Prevent Law Enforcement Suicide

The following 4 strategies are generally recommended for preventing suicide by both law enforcement officers and the general public. They include:

  1. Understanding the risk factors and warning signs of law enforcement suicide
  2. Using available resources and building a support network
  3. Challenging the stigma in seeking support
  4. Using the AID LIFE mnemonic

Other Police Suicide Prevention Programs

Together for Life was developed by Psychologists as a comprehensive suicide prevention program in Montreal. This program includes a half-day training session for all officers, a confidential telephone helpline, a full-day training session in more in-depth techniques for supervisors and awareness materials. Mishara & Martin’s 2012 evaluation showed:

  • 99% of those who attended the sessions said they would recommend the sessions to a colleague
  • 84% of supervisors were aware of the program
  • Positive increases in knowledge of risk factors and warning signs, and how to intervene
  • A nearly 80% decrease in the rate of Montreal police suicides (versus no change in the rate of police suicides in other police services in Quebec)

Badge of Life: Psychological Survival for Police Officers (Levenson, O’Hara & Clark, 2010) makes “emotional self-care (ESC)” the focus of a series of training modules delivered to police officers, along with mental health screenings and the delivery of peer support by other officers and the use of Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD).

Police Organization Providing Peer Assistance (POPPA) (Dowling, et. al., 2006) is a New York Police Department (NYPD) based program for preventing suicide. It combines a confidential helpline, support groups, printed suicide awareness and intervention materials distributed to all police officers, and tools to assess resiliency and stress. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is also provided yearly.

Additional Resources

The book Police Suicide: Tactics for Prevention provides a comprehensive review of police suicide causes and potential interventions to reduce suicidal behaviour in this group.

References

American Association of Suicidology. (n.d.) “Warning Signs | American Association of Suicidology” Retrieved on September 4, 2016 from http://www.suicidology.org/resources/warning-signs

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). (2014) “Suicide Statistics — AFSP” Retrieved on September 4, 2016 from https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

Badge of Life. (n.d.) Police Suicide Myths. Retrieved on September 4, 2016 from http://www.badgeoflife.com/myths/

Cross, C.L. & Ashley, L. (2004) Police Trauma and Addiction: Coping With the Dangers of the Job. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. 73(10) Retrieved on September 4, 2016 from https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Publications/abstract.aspx?ID=207385

Dowling, F.G., Moynihan, G., Genet, B. & Lewis, J. (2006). A Peer-Based Assistance Program for Officers With the New York City Police Department: Report of the Effects of Sept. 11, 2001. American Journal Of Psychiatry: Official Journal Of The American Psychiatric Association, (1), 151. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.163.1.151

Kulbarsh, P. (2016) “2015 Police Suicide Statistics” Officer.com. Retrieved on September 4, 2016 from http://www.officer.com/article/12156622/2015-police-suicide-statistics

Levenson Jr, R. L., O’Hara, A. F., & Clark Sr, R. (2010). The Badge of Life Psychological Survival for Police Officers Program. International Journal Of Emergency Mental Health & Human Resilience, 12(2), 95-101.

Mishara, B. L., & Martin, N. (2012). Effects of a comprehensive police suicide prevention program. Crisis: The Journal Of Crisis Intervention And Suicide Prevention, 33(3), 162-168. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000125

New Jersey Police Training Commission. (2016) Basic Course for Police Officers.

Roufa, T. (2015) “What is the Divorce Rate for Police Officers?” The Balance. Retrieved on September 4, 2016 from https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-the-divorce-rate-for-police-officers-974539

Stedman, T. (2016) Stedman’s Medical Dictionary (28th ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2016), "Law Enforcement Suicide Prevention," retrieved on October 23, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/law-enforcement-suicide-prevention/.
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Providing Emotional Support Over Text and Chat

Introduction to Text and ChatRoleplay Transcript

With text and chat services increasingly moving online, emotional support work – the core element of the work of crisis lines is needing to be adapted to work in new formats that require a change in your perspective and technique. On the telephone, there are a number of ways of providing a warm, genuine experience. For instance, your voice tone and pitch communicates a lot, as well as the speed in which you talk, whether you speak over the caller or let them lead, and so on. There is a lot of non-verbal communication that happens on the phone.

In contrast, online all you have is text. So many of the dimensions that are used to promote warmth, communicate empathy and demonstrate caring are simply absent. This makes it more difficult to build rapport with these visitors and be effective.

The elements of active listening, or the active listening process are the same, although of course it seems unusual to call it “listening” since you aren’t using your ears. There is still an effort made to be alert for and respond to communication, however. Some people prefer “emotional support” instead.

Chat and Text Length

Chat and text conversations tend to be longer than telephone conversations; an average telephone call may be 20 minutes while a crisis chat or text conversation will be 45-60 minutes. This is due to the time required for you to send a text, for the visitor to receive it, read it, decide what they’re going to write, and then write back. You may not send a lot of  messages in this 60 minutes, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t accomplishing a lot – which is reflected in the outcomes, often up to 30% reduction in subjective distress over an hour.

Opening Conversations

In the opening of a text-based conversation, it’s important to be warm and genuine. Your opening message should give your name, because the visitor doesn’t have anything else to go on. You may want or need to identify your organization as well. Finally, you’ll want to ask the visitor what brought them to text in.

An example of an opening message I could use on the ONTX Project is “Welcome to the ONTX Project. My name is Dustin, what’s going on in your life?”

Sometimes a visitor will text in with a lethality statement, something like, “I want to die.” This doesn’t necessarily change your opening, but it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge the suicidal feeling. “Welcome to the ONTX Project. My name is Dustin, it sounds like you’re really struggling. Did you want to tell me what’s been going on?”

Some visitors though, may need a bit of encouragement. If you ask a visitor how they’re feeling, they may reply “idk” (I don’t know) or “bad”, and not elaborate. Other visitors may be much more articulate and be able to explain what’s going on in their life.

If someone says “idk” or “bad”, usually my next move is to ask them what’s on their mind tonight. This is a gentle way of rewording the question that helps them feel more comfortable. Usually at this point they’ll begin talking, but if not my final option is “What were you hoping to get out of texting in tonight?”

I’ve never had a visitor respond with “idk” or other messages after this much encouragement but I would likely empathize with how difficult it’s been for them to text in before ending the conversation and inviting them to try us again when they’re more able to speak.

Because of a 140 character limit, some of these messages may need to be sent as a pair of messages on text.

Exploring the Issue

Exploring the issue that the visitor is texting in about can be challenging. Unlike the helpline, where you may need to take a while to establish rapport, visitors on text tend to jump right to their primary concern rather quickly. They don’t have the luxury of many messages back and forth.

If you’ve used the above Opening the Conversation ideas, you should be well into exploring the issue. This section should proceed just the same way as an offline conversation does, using all elements of the active listening process (open ended questions, paraphrasing and summarizing.)

You may notice that you need to ask more clarifying questions than usual, because with text and a lack of tone it’s easier for things to be misunderstood or misconstrued.

Demonstrating Empathy

In an online environment, you have no voice tone to demonstrate empathy. For this reason it’s important to write out your empathy statements clearly in order to show that you have an idea what the visitor is going through. Clarifying and paraphrasing can help in rapport building as well, by demonstrating that you are paying attention. It’s important to recognize that clarifying, paraphrasing and other open and close-ended questions are not a replacement for pure empathy.

Empathy: You sound really alone.

Clarifying: You just lost your dog?

Paraphrasing: You’ve been having trouble since you lost your pet.

Note the difference, empathy highlights an emotion (alone) while clarifying and paraphrasing primarily on content without regard to an emotional undertone.

Suicide Risk Assessment and Intervention

Suicide risk assessment and intervention is a challenging topic over chat and text. The primary challenges in this environment include the difficulty collecting the amount of information required to perform a competent assessment in 140 characters and the lack of voice tone and body language.

Typically the first question asked on chat and text after confirming suicide thoughts are present is to determine if they’re at imminent risk. This is usually accomplished by asking something like “Have you done anything to kill yourself?” or “Have you taken any steps to end your life tonight?”

Chatters and texters will sometimes text in immediately after an overdose, and will readily reveal their level of danger but not until you ask. Sooner rather than later!

Next, I’ll ask the visitor what’s led them to feeling suicidal. This, when combined with an empathy statements, helps to begin exploring the visitor’s reasons for living or dying. For example, “You must be feeling so overwhelmed. Tell me what’s led you to feeling suicidal?”

After this, I move onto the elements of the DCIB Suicide Risk Assessment tool.

Winding Up Conversations

Because visitors are using their cell phones, they can put their phone in their pocket, and then pull it out without thinking about the time that passes in a few minutes. It’s not uncommon that at the end of your 45-60 minutes, when it comes to winding up, the visitor doesn’t even realize that amount of time has passed. They find themselves feeling better, however, which is great news!

Winding up has to be deliberate, otherwise the visitor is unlikely to wind up in a decent time. Past experience has shown that crisis chats can last 3 hours or longer lacking a proper wind up. In order to initiate a windup, you simply have to give the visitor an opportunity to express anything else on their mind and then let them know that you have to go. For example,

“We’ve been talking for about an hour so we’ll need to wrap our conversation up soon. I’m wondering if there’s anything else on your mind that you haven’t shared yet.”

Or, more succinctly,

“We’re just coming up on 45 minutes of chatting so we’ll need to wind up soon. Was there anything else you wanted to share before we do?”

This cues the visitor that the conversation needs to end and lets them focus on any outstanding issues. For instance, you may be convinced of their safety and they may not be – and by pointing that out by replying “I don’t know what to do to avoid attempting suicide tonight” then you can spend your remaining 15 minutes implementing a comprehensive safety plan for that visitor. In this way, the windup can be a tool for you and the visitor.

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2016), "Providing Emotional Support Over Text and Chat," retrieved on October 23, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/providing-emotional-support-text-chat/.
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