As part of a day-long exercise in preparing for the worst, Sara’s Project’s Donnell Cox led a suicide prevention workshop on Wednesday.
 The workshop was part of Ardmore Behavioral Health Collaborative’s Preparing for Community Devastation and Recovery event. The group, mostly teachers, learned current suicide prevention methods from Cox’s presentations, which set out to demystify a topic that scares most people.
“We can continue not talking about it, but not talking about it has moved Oklahoma very high on the scale, almost the worst of any state, for instances of suicide,” Cox said. “Especially among teenagers.”
He said in high school settings, students often haven’t been told how to handle finding out a friend is suicidal. He said without a plan, most students won’t know what to do.
“It’s important that we have dialogue with kids,” Cox said. “So far, every case I’ve worked in our state where a child has suicided, they told other kids. They didn’t tell adults.”
He said parents often either don’t know how to respond or don’t take it seriously, and parents are often too afraid to ask outright. Cox said a common misconception many people share is that if they ask if a person is considering suicide, they’ll inadvertently plant the idea in their head.
“Of the 50 school sites I’ve been in within the last six months they had either attempts or a lot of suicide [ideation],” Cox said.
Cox said when he first started studying crisis intervention in the 90s, the problem was there, but not nearly as prominent as it is today.
Cox teaches two classes on suicide prevention, the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training and SafeTALK. ASIST teaches professionals how to get immediate help for a suicidal person, while SafeTALK focuses more on recognizing warning signs. About half the group said they’d gone, but only a few had done so recently. Cox said methods can change quickly and it’s best to attend a new training once every few years.
He outlined warning signs, ranging from the obvious (emotional outbursts, a traumatic event in a person’s life, and giving away possessions) to the less so (reckless behavior, sudden weight gain or loss, and withdrawal from family or friends).He compared mental illness to sensory deprivation, asking the crowd how long they would last in a small box with no light or sound.
“So I never say never again in my life because if I’m human, I’m susceptible to having that journey that’s not a good one,” Cox said. “So are you.”
Cox said the goal is not to solve a person’s problems, but to reach out to them and start the process.
“What I tell kids is that it’s not ‘crazy thinking,’ because that’s one of their greatest fears,” Cox said. “I tell them ‘it’s not clear thinking.’ One is judgmental, the other just says ‘no, you’re just not on the right track.’”
He said the key is to speak openly and frankly about the issue at hand. If someone hasn’t ever had to bring the topic up before, they may speak euphemistically or stumble over their words, which could backfire. He gave the crowd a loose script to practice using with students that may be suicidal.
“When someone is going through stuff like you’re going through they sometimes think about suicide. Are you thinking about suicide?,” Cox recited, urging the crowd to memorize it, personalize it, and get comfortable asking it.  
Once they’ve spoken to the student, the next step is to listen to everything they say, practicing good active listening skills, and then get them to a safe location.