Last week, the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) ran a two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop for shore-side personnel in the inland river industry. The workshop took place in SCI’s Center for Maritime Education, Paducah, KY, and was very well-received by all who attended.
The ASIST course teaches the necessary attitudes, knowledge, and skills to recognize persons at risk, and to undertake appropriate management or referral of a person who is having thoughts of suicide. This course provides a natural extension of the mariner health roundtable hosted by SCI in May for companies representing the inland river industry.
Kim Nowell, Chief People Officer of Ingram Barge Company, said, “The ASIST training was yet another example of the outstanding commitment and partnership between SCI and our industry. Suicide is a tragedy that impacts too many people, and here at Ingram we are focused on doing all we can to protect our associates. This workshop provided useful, hands-on tools that will equip us in a much better way to support those who may be confronting these challenges. The SCI trainers know our population, they know personally who we work with, and they were able to make the program even more impactful. It was an amazing experience for all of us.”
Suicide remains a concern among towing operators because of many recent fatal cases and the challenging work/life rhythms of extended deployment to highly structured boat life, followed by extended return home to less structured family life. Mariners may view themselves as ruggedly self-sufficient and defer seeking professional medical and mental health support when they need it.
Some 5% of Americans have thoughts of suicide each year, and suicide behaviors are far more common than most people think. Almost everyone will come into contact with suicide behaviors in some significant way during their life. “Many people have been trained to administer physical first aid such as CPR,” noted the Rev. David M. Rider (President and Executive Director of SCI), “but very few know about emergency first aid for preventing suicide.”
The workshop, developed by a company called LivingWorks Education, was presented by the Rev. David Rider and Dr. Naomi Walker (Director of Communications for SCI), both accredited ASIST trainers. It dealt directly with attitudes about suicide prevention and also taught participants to recognize people who might be at risk. According to Naomi Walker, major risk indicators include sudden changes in behavior or personality, feelings of hopelessness or depression, previous suicide attempts, and most importantly, statements expressing a desire or intention to die. One of the most important skills to have, she emphasized, is the ability to ask directly about suicide, thereby opening honest discussion of the topic.
One participant said of the course, “This exceeded my expectations. While I’ve been professionally trained before, I learned new skills and processes that were simpler and more useful.” Another commented, “This was a very good workshop – I feel I’m leaving with a whole new set of skills that will benefit all facets of my life.”
The Rev. Rider and Dr. Walker both encourage other organizations to consider suicide intervention training for their members. A full list of course times, fees, and dates offered by SCI can be found at seamenschurch.org/ASIST. SCI welcomes workshop participants from the river maritime community, churches, social welfare organizations, and the general public over age 16. Those interested in enrolling or finding out more should email ASIST@seamenschurch.org or call +1 (212) 349-1791.
Persons struggling with suicide should contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 or their healthcare provider.