SafeTALK: Asking Is the Only Way to Know

Posted by York & U on June 10, 2015

York & U

In a given month, there are as many events happening at York University as there are days. From workshops on how to transfer academe skills to the workplace, to free lunchtime concerts by York music students, to seminars on managing exam stress. Another example is safeTALK, a FREE, three-hour training session that prepares individuals to identify persons with thoughts of suicide, and to connect them with suicide first-aid resources.

Laura Gonzalez
Laura Gonzalez

Laura Gonzalez, who is a Sociology student in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, shares her impressions of a safeTALK session she attended a few months ago:

The word “suicide” is very uncomfortable; it feels intrusive and way too heavy for casual conversation. That was the overarching sentiment at the safeTALK training offered in February through York’s centre for Student Community & Leadership Development (SCLD).

Yet no matter how distressing, I would rather address it than ignore it. Why? Because if I suspect someone in my community—at York or beyond—of having thoughts of suicide, direct and open discussion is not only helpful, it can be life-saving.

I know this firsthand through my work as a Toronto Distress Line Volunteer. Asking: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?” or “Have you attempted suicide before?” is not easy, even for a person with training, or for someone who has been exposed to an actual suicide situation.

In fact, not knowing the person on the other end of the line­–or more correctly, being the one who is the unknown­–is a disadvantage because, even though I try to assure them that I’m there to help, I can’t help thinking, “Why would they trust me?”

But just being there, simply supporting and validating a person’s feelings, is incredibly powerful. A semblance of trust begins to develop, and with that comes a certain level of comfort in asking (and, for the caller, answering) questions about suicide. Still, the stakes are high. At any moment the caller can hang up. And you, as the helper, can be left wondering: “Should I have asked the question sooner?” That is why being very straightforward about thoughts of suicide is imperative.

safeTALK trainer Sean Coleman made it clear that the single best way to try to prevent someone from taking their own life is to ask a person at risk if they are feeling suicidal. Sean also reassured us that asking about suicide does not mean that we are encouraging thoughts of suicide.

Throughout the training I learned not only to be brave, but that I am capable of doing what needs to be done. By addressing the issue head on I may help someone live another day. I may help them feel there is hope, realize that things can and do get better, and help them obtain appropriate counselling support services on or off-campus.

I encourage others to sign up for this training because there is no better way to end the stigma of suicide than by learning how to help a person in need.

About Laura Gonzalez

Laura, who has assisted York’s Counseling and Disability Services as a work-study student since her first year, will be entering her fifth year of Sociology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies in the fall, at which time she will also be applying for a Master’s in Social Work and Disability Studies. Laura is on the executive teams for Doctors without Borders York and Devices 4 Disabilities.

A secret (or not so secret) spot on campus for peace and quiet:  The basement of the TEL building.

An activity to burn off steam: Walking along the Osgoode Library pathway.

Favourite food on campus: The primavera pasta with rosé sauce from Cucinetta Italian Café in York Lanes.

Just the Facts

safeTALK is a FREE, three-hour training session that prepares individuals to identify persons with thoughts of suicide and connect them to suicide first aid resources. Most people with thoughts of suicide invite help to stay safe, and alert helpers know how to use these opportunities to support that desire for safety. As a safeTALK-trained suicide alert helper, you will be better able to:

  • move beyond common tendencies to miss, dismiss or avoid suicide;
  • identify people who have thoughts of suicide;
  • and apply the TALK steps (Tell, Ask, Listen and Keep Safe) to connect a person with suicide thoughts to suicide first aid, intervention caregivers.


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