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How can you save a loved one from suicide?

A workshop on assessing risk of suicide and providing early intervention to a person who may have thoughts of suicide

Picture this, you have a friend who seems distressed and has isolated themselves. The friend sounds hopeless and helpless and even hints at suicide, in your conversations. Chances are that you want to talk to them but don't know how to approach them. What if you talk to them and they don't respond? What if you hurt them instead of helping them? What if you push them further away?

Psychiatrists say that often, a conversation or an empathetic ear can lead people away from suicide attempts. A gatekeeper is someone who believes that suicide can be prevented in the community and is willing to give time and energy for this cause. Anyone can be a gatekeeper  – a teacher, parent, neighbour, hostel warden, police or a lay counselor. A gatekeeper should sound the alarm when they identify someone who is very distressed, provide initial emotional support and then refer them to a mental health professional.

A one-day workshop was conducted by a team of psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and psychiatric social workers at  the NIMHANS Centre for Well Being (NCWB) The workshop aims at teaching the gatekeeper to:

  • Identify persons at risk for suicide

  • Assess the suicide risk

  • Provide immediate intervention

  • Do signposting and resource mobilization

The workshop was held on 24 June, 2015, and was divided into two sessions: the first on suicide risk assessment and the second on intervention. It began with an  exercise  to identify the strengths of another person as you listen to his/her story. The exercise was supervised by Dr Senthil Reddi, associate professor of psychiatry, NIMHANS. Participants were asked to get into pairs and befriend a person. They were given five minutes to interact with their partner, listen to the person’s narration about a personal incident, identify strengths and reflect the strength to the other person. The purpose of the exercise, which was later explained, is that a person who is thinking about self harm or suicide can feel hopeless, helpless and purposeless in life. Addressing their strengths may make them feel less unsure and slightly more confident about themselves.

Ragesh, junior consultant at NIMHANS, explained how one can identify people who are thinking about ending their life. Topics such as the difference between suicide and self-harm, warning signs and risk factors for suicide were discussed during his session. Following this, Padmavathy D, in-charge staff nurse, NCWB, conducted a session on suicide risk assessment.

Dr Prabha S Chandra, professor of psychiatry at NIMHANS, led a video-enabled session on early intervention for a young woman who was thinking about ending her life after the break up of her relationship. Participants learnt how to help the person with a crisis plan and support them in reaching out to an expert for help. 

Dr Krishnaprasad M, associate professor at NIMHANS conducted roleplays on providing interventions for suicide prevention.

This comprehensive one-day course is meant not only for counselors and mental health professionals, but can also be attended by those who would like to be gatekeepers and help prevent a distressed colleague, neighbor, friend or a family member, from taking that extreme step to end their lives. 

For more details on the workshop, contact NIMHANS Centre for Wellbeing, #1/B, 9th main, 1st stage, 1st phase, BTM layout, Bangalore-5600076. Phone no: 080 26685948/9480829670 or visit http://nimhans.ac.in/nimhans/nimhans-centre-well-being.