At the meeting of SU council on Monday the 24th of February, Campaigns & Engagement Officer Katie O’Dea proposed a motion removing Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) from the mandated training all Sabbatical Officers must take, and to propose that all training must be completed over the summer break.
The motion, which was seconded by Welfare Officer Úna Carroll, proposed the removal of ASIST, and the addition of ShoutOut training, which provides information on LGBTQ+ identities and how to address them in the workplace. The motion passed with a high majority of the council members in favour.
The reasoning behind this proposal was that ASIST training is an unnecessary level of training for the severity of cases that sabbatical officers should be dealing with, and that the impression that the sabbatical officers have mental health qualifications is potentially harmful. SafeTALK, a three hour ‘suicide alertness’ training, is still mandated to all sabbatical offices, and was arugued to be sufficient. ASIST training is described by the HSE as “suicide first aid”. It is intended to enable people to connect the suicidal person with mental health professionals.
The decision to remove ASIST training has since been criticised by students on social media, including Melissa Plunkett who stated on Twitter: “This is so disappointing to see. I would love if the SU or @ucddublin hired a professional to work on the corridor but not having the training is a bad decision. This training saves lives!” Plunkett was the Welfare officer for the 2018/19 academic year and Mature Students Campaigns Coordinator in 2017/18. She proposed the successful introduction of ASIST during this tenure.
Speaking to The University Observer about introducing ASIST, Plunkett stated “I worked alongside sabbats that year. I witnessed the impact the Welfare role had on all of the sabbats. During crossover I was told about the type of casework dealt with historically by the welfare officers gone by. When I enquired about the training provided once in the role I was told it’s whatever you want. The Welfare Officer before me had taken it upon himself to get ASIST training as he felt it was needed”. She added “I’ve been advocating for a professional to be hired since my days as a campaign coordinator. It is never appropriate to put a student in a position where they are dealing with crises of any kind with little to no training”. She also highlighted that Residential Assistants, which is also a student held role, are expected to deal with these crises as well, with little training and a lack of formal support.
When asked about the council’s decision to remove ASIST training from the mandate, Plunkett stated “I am disappointed not because I originally brought the mandate in, but because it is a vital resource to fall back on when the health centre is closed and you can’t just bring someone upstairs to the GP or counsellors. SafeTALK is grand if you want more awareness and to notice signs of suicide in people but a half day of training doesn’t give you the skills you need to have the hard conversations. The conversations that a 2 day ASIST course allows you to prepare and practice for. [...] Training makes the difference not only for the people that come into the SU on a sliding scale of where their mental health is, at that time but also for the sabbatical officers that interact with those students, friends, and family members. It’s easy to dismiss it as not our job but the reality is we are faced with it as sabbatical officers almost every day! It becomes our job whether we want it to be or not.”
Katie O’Dea and Úna Carrol have not responded to request for comment.