ST. CLOUD – September is Suicide Prevention Month, and St. Cloud-based CentraCare is offering free training programs on how to spot and help those grappling with suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

The health care system launched its Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper Training, or S.A.V.E, in April of 2019. Lisa Bershok, CentraCare’s Suicide Prevention Program Manager, says people who are at risk of taking their own lives might present a variety of symptoms, including:

  • A sense of hopelessness about their life or current circumstances
  • A feeling of being trapped or purposelessness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Increased anxiety or agitation
  • Increased drug/alcohol use
  • Reckless / dangerous behavior

Bershok says, much like CPR certification courses, suicide prevention training can help ordinary citizens keep people alive until they can connect with a medical professional.

“(The training) helps you recognize the warning signs that someone might be at risk of suicide, how to respond, and how to connect that person with help. Just as we see healthier, more resilient communities where more people are trained in CPR, we see that in communities with more people trained in suicide prevention.”

Suicide awareness is a particularly timely topic; Bershok says the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges that have noticeably affected mental health in central Minnesota and around the country.

“We have members of our communities experiencing economic issues due to business decreases or unemployment. We have increased social isolation, which is difficult regardless of your age, as well as increased physical illness issues and this national anxiety we’re all feeling right now. So, we know those individuals in our communities already dealing with psychiatric issues might see worsening symptoms.”

Bershok says people of all ages and backgrounds can develop mental health issues at any point, though not all of those people will experience suicidal thoughts or impulses. No matter what age or circumstances, she says early intervention is universally critical.

“We know that suicidal thoughts or mental health conditions are treatable, so it’s very important we try to intervene quickly when someone starts to experience symptoms. Early detection can go a long way in preventing a crisis in the future.”

S.A.V.E is open to people ages 15 and older, along with businesses, schools, faith communities and other groups. The next training is set for Sept. 22. To register, visit the training’s Eventbrite page.

To learn more about CentraCare’s suicide prevention programming, and see a list of suicide prevention resources, check out this blog on CentraCare's website.