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ASIST: A Turning Point in Mental Health Awareness

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kevin Dunkleberger
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The Integrated Resilience Office (IRO) is increasing their operations to conduct bimonthly Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) courses beginning January 2024, as part of the Department of Defense’s initiative to increase mental health awareness and access to mental health care.

ASIST expands on the annually required Suicide Prevention Training (SPT) all service members complete. The SPT is appropriately informative for the masses serving in uniform, but for those who may have more exposure to intervening in suicidal situations or would like to be able to offer more assistance, additional teachings are available through ASIST.

The two-day course covers identifying at-risk indicators, resources available from helping agencies and provides participants with skills to intervene when someone is struggling with suicide.

The program was introduced to Shaw AFB in January 2021, and to date, 416 people have been ASIST certified.

The IRO aims to certify more base personnel in ASIST intervention methods by conducting more frequent classes in 2024. Shaw AFB currently has five certified ASIST trainers; however, one is set to change stations and with two others deployed, the IRO faces challenges hosting a routine class schedule.

Karan Godette, 20th Fighter Wing IRO prevention specialist, and U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Bakhtyar Alam, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron aircraft structural maintenance craftsman, are the two newest certified trainers helping to host ASIST classes in 2024.

“The Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training course aligns with the Department of Defense’s initiative to improve access to care and the culture surrounding mental health,” said Godette. “The IRO’s goal is to certify more Airmen through the ASIST class to help create a culture of support and connect others to helping agencies available at Shaw.”

ASIST teaches methods a person can implement to help someone until professional resources arrive. During the two-day course, mock scenarios are conducted to practice the skills taught and allow participants to experience the different emotions one might feel while intervening in a crisis.

“The skills taught in ASIST allow service members to engage in a real-life situation with more confidence than before,” said Alam. “Empathy is the bridge that connects us, making ASIST training a lifeline in the darkest moments. Just as planes rely on skilled pilots, our response to suicide relies on trained caregivers. ASIST prepares us for this critical mission.”

When a professional is not the first point of contact to a person in a suicidal situation, ASIST-certified personnel can proactively engage with individuals and serve as a caregiver to the at-risk person until helping agencies arrive on scene.

Utilizing a licensed intervention model which focuses on keeping the individual safe for now, ASIST graduates learn how to directly ask a person if they are considering suicide, hear their story, and offer support as they connect with the person. Ultimately, ASIST certified personnel aim to prevent a suicidal action by helping the person in a crisis find a turning point in their perspective to seek life over death.

Additionally, ASIST teaches acquiring help and recovery may not be a linear path and emphasizes the importance of educated caregiving as each situation is unique. With the goal to save lives, it is important to approach each case without biases and unwavering support.

As the IRO implements future ASIST courses, Shaw AFB service members will be able to intervene in suicidal situations to help save lives of service members everywhere.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, the following resources are available:

Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: 988

Emergency Line: 911

Military OneSource: (800) 342-9647

Chaplain: (803) 895-1106 After hours: (803) 895-5850

Mental Health: (803) 895-6199

Airman and Family Readiness Center: (803) 895-1252