Like many experienced financial counsellors, I have done a 2-day ASIST suicide intervention training, held in-house at the agency I was working at five years ago. However, I still dread the moment a client discloses to me that they have been thinking of suicide. I still feel ill-prepared for such disclosures. However, I know enough that after a disclosure I should not minimise how they are feeling and not to avoid talking about it.
At my previous agency, in the initial assessment, I would ask clients if they were so distressed that they had thoughts of suicide. This felt like a huge responsibility but an important one as we know that financial problems are one of the biggest stressors in a person’s life.
I have so many questions and uncertainties about how I would react the next time a client discloses thoughts of suicide. I have been trained that if I thought a client was at risk of imminent harm that I could call the local Crisis Assessment and Treatment team (CAT) or the police. But would they attend, and how long would they take? But for other clients thinking of suicide, what short term safety planning would I do? How would I know if I had done enough? Am I left ‘holding all of the risk’ myself? Have I fulfilled my duty of care? What about the moral duty I feel to another person? What if I am working as a stand-alone financial counsellor? How am I feeling after, especially after I go home from work?
I am aware that some financial counsellors work in different outreach locations where they cannot signal to a colleague for support in handling a situation or for immediate debriefing after. Of course, last year most financial counsellors worked from home over the phone. We were not face to face with our clients nor did we know for sure where they were physically located. We were also unable to read their body language. My previous training and experience did not cover this. The home becoming a workplace means debriefing and recovery after a serious incident is even more important, so that we are not triggered and retraumatised in our own homes.
Another result of COVID-19 is that financial counsellors are seeing many clients who have not experienced unemployment or business loss before and may not be already connected to mental health services. They might not have had the opportunity to talk about their situation before. Are we equipped to take on what many fear may be an avalanche in March, when Centrelink benefits are cut back even more? Recently a couple of my young friends studied for their coaching certificates in various sports. As part of it they had to complete a First Aid certificate that must be renewed every 2 years for their coaching certificate to remain current. That got me thinking about how I long ago it was that I did any suicide intervention training. Also, that there is no real requirement for financial counsellors to complete suicide intervention/ prevention training or to renew it every two years. I feel that it is important that financial counsellors are given the opportunity to learn these skills and to review them regularly.