Student with open notebook

Recognize the Signs

Recognizing Suicide Warning Signs

Social work students at Northern had a rare opportunity to participate alongside faculty members and community clinicians in a full-day Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk (AMSR) training this spring on campus. One of the students ended up using her AMSR handbook shortly after the training to identify the level of risk for one of her teenage clients at her field placement location.

“It was so helpful in providing direction to both of us,” said Angie Kates. “It made me feel confident that I was supporting the client and that they were going to remain safe. I found the teenager responded really well and was excited about being engaged in their own safety planning and healing. As they told us during the training, it's important to confront suicide and not skirt around it. People are desperate to talk about it with someone.”

NMU professor Sarah Carlson ’08 BSW said AMSR provides a framework for making personalized risk-mitigation and treatment decisions, and is firmly grounded in the latest research and best practices related to suicide care in a variety of settings.

“We were so excited to be able to offer this opportunity to our students, as this level of training in suicide prevention prior to graduation is unique,” Carlson said. “All of these students are currently embedded in their required field placements and some have already encountered individuals contemplating suicide. Getting them trained early will increase their confidence in dealing with such situations and their ability to successfully intervene. Hopefully that will reduce the risk of suicide among people under their care.”

Carlson was able to offer the training thanks to a grant through the Michigan Public Health Institute. More than half of the 45 attendees were NMU students. Several recent graduates of NMU’s Master of Social Work program also participated, including April master’s graduate Kate Dohnal ’15 BS, who was placed at Pathways Community Mental Health in Marquette.

“I use AMSR all the time,” Dohnal said. “As an emerging social worker already practicing therapy, it's important to screen for suicide in most assessments you're doing with clients because it presents in many ways and is a very complex thing. It's good to inquire, whether or not you think the person is actively suicidal. Having training and materials to aid in your confidence really helps when you're doing therapy.”

Carlson hopes to pursue additional grants to make the training session a consistent opportunity for NMU students before they fully embark on their careers.

Written by Kristi Evans