Building a Suicide Safer Community at the VTRC



R. J. Dough, Photos by Su Phelps

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 44,965 Americans die by suicide each year and for every suicide, there are 25 attempts. If those attempts were successful, over 1.1 million Americans would have died each year. If those suicides were isolated to one location, a city the size of Las Vegas would be wiped out! So, this is a serious problem. On top of that, suicide is still a taboo subject in our society. So, the thought of asking someone if they are thinking about suicide is in itself, a challenge.

Often, we hear the term “22 a day” pertaining to suicides in the veteran community. But, is that number accurate? There are many instances where a death is labeled as an open verdict. To get an accurate picture of this, we can examine a head on collision. Here are three questions: 1) did the driver fall asleep, 2) was the driver under the influence od drugs and/or alcohol, and 3) was the collision intentional? In other words, “22 a day” may be too small to account for all the open verdicts.

So, in order to combat this large or larger number, the Veterans Transition Resource Center, in conjunction with the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention, holds a safeTALK workshop every month. The “safe” of safeTALK is actually an acronym that means Suicide Alertness For Everyone. The workshop teaches you how to identify when someone may be at risk of suicide, listen to their story why they became at risk, and how to keep them safe until they can be handed off to someone capable of doing an intervention. This 3 ½ hour workshop has been around for over 30 years. It was developed by a company called Living Works ( Its length of existence validates its effectiveness. Over the years it has been updated to better serve our ever-changing world. The class is taught worldwide. The languages may be different but the lesson plan is the same. Each facilitator is trained to meticulously follow that plan.

Most people don’t realize the thought of suicide is a normal human emotion. In any given 2-week period, at least one person out of every 20 has thoughts of suicide. In fact, you yourself, or someone standing next to you or any random person may be thinking about suicide right now. So, the more people trained in suicide alertness or intervention, in our community, the safer it is!

There is also a more advanced course called ASIST. Yes, another acronym. It means Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. It is the next step after taking safeTALK. It’s an intense 2-day workshop where you will learn how to go beyond the skills of a safeTALK, suicide alert helper. In ASIST, you will actually practice doing an intervention. This will help you identify which skills you have and those you need to hone.

Both workshops are designed to take your average, every day, non-medical professional and transform them. Successful completion of one or both workshops will help you overcome the societal taboos regarding suicide and make you confident to ask that one all important question – are you thinking about suicide?

Arrangements can be made for both classes through the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention. Their number is 702 – 486 – 8225. safeTALK is taught monthly at the VTRC. Living Works developed a military version of safeTALK. It is the version we use at the VTRC. Our focus goes beyond veterans and their families. We invite people that work with veterans or are interested in learning more about the veteran community.

ASIST should only be scheduled after completing the safeTALK workshop. Also, both safeTALK and ASIST earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs). The Suicide Prevention Office will tell you what fees may be associated with the course and the CEUs. Class size for safeTALK at the VTRC is limited to 15 people.

Since suicide may affect anyone, the Crisis Help Line is available 24/7. Everyone who answers those calls is ASIST trained. You do not have to be the person at risk to call. If you are a veteran or calling about a veteran, pressing option 1 will connect you to an ASIST trained person who is familiar with the military and the acronyms used by the military. That number is 800 – 273 – 8255 or 800 – 273 – TALK.