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safeTalk Helps BC Dispatchers Improve Handling of Suicide-Risk Calls and Combat Office Burnout

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By: Chelsea Carter

The sound of sirens and the image of flashing lights is often the first sign that help is on the way to someone in need. The highly trained BC Ambulance Service paramedics and ambulance dispatchers are often the first to respond to individuals in crisis. This gave Sarah Scott, Planning Practice Educator of BCAS, the idea to approach the Crisis Centre.

Getting dispatchers the proper training to support folks with suicidal thoughts was a concern for Sarah. She was also concerned about the wellbeing of her own colleagues. She believed the Crisis Centre would be best suited to provide training because of the Centre’s focus on mental health, as well as the similarities between the work of crisis line operators and ambulance dispatchers.

Last year Sarah and a colleague took part in a safeTALK training workshop to better respond to the hundreds of potentially suicide-related calls they receive each month.

“We were blown away,” Sarah says, “it was so simplistic and had such a great message.”

This was precisely the kind of training paramedics and dispatchers needed, and so Sarah and her colleague went back to attend safeTalk Training-for-Trainers so they could offer safeTALK to their colleagues.

safeTalk has since become an integral part of the two-day mental health training given to ambulance dispatchers.

The impact of safeTALK training was immediately evident. “People were very grateful for the training. It put all the staff on the same playing field to be able to talk about suicide,” Sarah says.

safeTalk has also enabled dispatchers to build their own resilience to compassion fatigue and burnout, they are able to communicate emotions more clearly, are more alert to signs of distress, and are better equipped to reach out to others.

Sarah remembers before she had taken safeTALK she had tried to reach out to her colleague prior to their suicide attempt but was unsure how to approach them. “You try to reach out,” she says, “but you don’t really know how.”

Sarah says she feels much more confident in dealing with such situations within the office, life and on the dispatch line.

Dispatchers have noted they feel better prepared to respond to individuals who are considering suicide. In addition to the suicide intervention tools, dispatchers are able to leverage the crisis line as a secondary resource to better aid callers dealing with suicide.

safeTALK training has had such a large impact on the workplace that Sarah and another colleague from the Victoria BC Ambulance dispatch office returned to the Crisis Centre to attend the ASIST program. This program follows safeTALK and provides expansive training in suicide prevention and intervention, as well as how to build safety plans to keep someone alive.

Sarah’s hope is to one day be able to offer BCAS employees the more comprehensive Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) so that those that are confident in dealing with suicide risk calls could act as a go-to if other dispatchers ever became overwhelmed or uncomfortable with handling a first-party suicide call.

If you or your organization would like to learn more about attending safeTalk or ASIST trainings click here or contact the Crisis Centre.