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Barb Bigalke founded and is the Executive Director of The Center for Suicide Awareness, a 501c3 nonprofit, located in Kaukauna, WI. She is certified in the Mitchell Model for Suicide Prevention, Intervention, Postvention, De-Briefing and Group and Individual Crisis Intervention. She is a certified CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) and is part of the Manitowoc County CISM team. She is certified by the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) in Crisis and Emergency Response. She is a certified QPR instructor. She is a Brain Spotting therapist. She is a Practitioner of Kinesiology. She holds certifications in Trauma-Informed Care and Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality. She is a certified facilitator by the American Foundation. Barb holds degrees in Psychology, Human Development, and Mental Health Counseling. Barb brought the Text-Based Support Line to our State called the HOPELINE. Prior, Barb worked for the Department of Justice and directed the Victim Crisis Response Team for Law Enforcement.
Thanks for being with us, Barb! You have such an extensive and impressive bio. What inspired you to take the paths that you have?
When I started out in College I truly was one of those people who couldn’t pick a major. So I did 3! Figuring I would get one of them right! When I worked on the West coast in the computer industry is where I got the bug for the work with criminal justice.
Why is it that when celebrities’ suicides are on radar, but when ordinary people do it it’s simple suicide?
I could not agree with you more! Every day people die by suicide and we don’t see them in the news. We should. They mattered.
Do you know what to do when given no resolutions to suicidal thoughts besides just keep going? Most people (including my therapist) just say they’re surprised I made it this far. I’m starting anxiety meds but I’m not sure that’ll help with the harmful thoughts.
Take hour by hour that makes a day and keep going. Try to find out what is truly driving those thoughts. Is it a trauma? Is it something that you are working on in therapy? Usually something is driving those thoughts.
What would your advice be for a friend who simply wants to self harm (scratch/cut) as a means of “release”? I fear it’s a precursor to something else.
Self harm is interesting. Some people use it as their way to feel they are still alive. It is coping skill. Not a healthy one but sometimes it keeps that person alive…..what you want to make sure is they are not trying to kill themselves. Ask that person what is the motive behind the self harm? Are they trying to end their lives? Also suggest other coping skills that are healthy like exercise and other type of releases.
I survived 3 suicide attempts. How I can share my story?
I am SOOO glad you are here to share your story! And boy it is an important one! Your story can help so many. You can share your story at our website centerforsuicideawareness.org We believe that real stories real people are the experts! They give hope to so many! Keep on walking your story!
How do I continue to live life when my mind is full of thoughts that make me wish that make me want to just end it all, but I know that I can’t but it’s like I have nothing to really look forward to anymore that’s exciting.
I hear you. Life gets really overwhelming sometimes. We all sorta walk through life and see others who seem to have it all together. Guess what? No one has it all together! We all are just trying to do life. Have you ever done a gratitude journal? Write down things that you are grateful in life! Like I have a job? Or I have one friend that always makes me laugh?
I use to write down my prayers because after seeing the movie War Room I was inspired to do it, but I stopped. Maybe I should start writing things that I’m grateful for.
I like the idea! Get an old mason jar. Write in marker. I am grateful. Take pieces of paper and put anything that comes to your mind. Prayers are wonderful and never forget you are here for a reason and you have purpose!
With your work being so heavily based around trauma, what do you do for self-care and how often do you find yourself needing to take those pauses?
Great question! I am a therapist and YES I go to see a therapist! I love nature so do some great hikes. Love my pets and journal my thoughts. I go back and read my journals especially during hard times….it makes me realize….hey I got through that even though I didn’t think I could!!
Some people say that talking is a great first step. But I say it takes a new world where everyone does their part to create a safe space for people to talk. What are some ways that you recommend we can create safer spaces for people to talk more openly?
I so agree with this! We need to have a culture shift. Where people feel safe to share and we do not put shame and blame or judgement on them. Why people don’t disclose – because they don’t feel safe. I believe listening is an ART. We all need someone to listen and truly be heard. Creating this types of spaces where people can truly be heard and validated is key.
Are there any breathing exercises that you recommend to calm one’s mind
I love the CALM app. Free app that literally shows you how to breathe at a relaxing pace. Did you ever notice that when we get anxious our breathing is the first thing to get strange. Noticing and pacing our breathing can so calm our minds.
What negotiation was your most challenging and why? Can you offer details about the actual stakes of the negotiation?
When you are dealing with a human being it always is challenging. But it is critical. I always feel honored when someone shares their story at sometimes their darkest hour. When I have worked with people in those situations it is life or death. I am grateful they chose to live. One case was a person who was so overwhelmed they were driving on a major freeway at high speeds. I kept a calm voice with the person while on the phone and finally urged them to pull over. This could have ended with a dangerous accident for not only that person but others.
My husband gets “depressed” often. Has always been a glass-half-empty kind. He has a therapist with whom I’ve shared my concerns and I can tell he was unaware of the extent of his negativity. Suicide hasn’t been attempted, but mentioned in text-book ways, “Maybe it would be better if….” He aggressively pushes away any conversation, even something as simple as “I’m here for you”. I will be seeing my therapist to help me deal on a few levels, but any pointers in the meantime?
First you are trying so that is the biggest thing! He sounds like he thinks is depression is a burden. Could you say things like “Depression is just part of you not all of you” I love you and care about you so let’s figure this out Together. Glad he sees therapy but sometimes it has to be the right type of therapy. DBT therapy is great for coping skills and negative thinking.
How can I help someone who may or may not hurt themselves? It’s complicated when I don’t know them personally. Beyond telling them that I care and urging them to use resources like hotlines or calling hospitals, what can I do?
Reach out to them even if you do not know them personally. Look up QPR….it is a way to question and persuade people and get them to resources. They have great verbiage. The biggest thing is they are thinking that their problems are too big. Break them down for them . Suggest you go seek help with them. If you really are concerned – get the police or crisis involved.
How do you talk down suicidal people? And how do you de-escalate a hostage situation?
Talk people down is a matter of figuring out what is driving them to suicide. It is not just one thing but a layer of many things. Peeling away one at a time and caring. I have not lost anyone to suicide directly. However in the work I did in Crisis Response I saw firsthand how Suicide was a different kind of death. You can’t answer Why. And with that left many a person left behind that felt blame for that person’s death and the stigma meant they didn’t grieve in a healthy way. Everyone should be able to grieve. It should not be based on the the method of death. We miss that person period.
Do you think teen suicide has gotten worse? Or is it just more transparent now?
Yes in a simple answer. Suicide has risen by 25% across the USA. We talk about it a little more but it still has so much stigma around it. WE have to break that if you ask for help you are weak —not true— you are strong.
Does anyone know why teen suicide has risen?
There are theories. Cyber bullying is one thing. Social media is great in so many ways but it can do a lot of harm. Now when you make a mistake it can be blasted across social media. Or we all see other great profiles on Facebook etc and think wow they really have it together. No one looks great 24/7. When I wake up with a cold guess what I look have watery eyes, a red nose and sound awful. That is reality!
Do you think shows like ’13 Reasons Why’ romanticizes suicide?
I agree. I do not like that show at all. Here is why……we know that bullying exists, we know assaults exists…..but that shows did not put any resources where a person can get help. It also gave the impression that suicide is about revenge….getting back at people hurting you. That is not suicide at all. Suicide is truly about inner pain not revenge.
What are you supposed to do when you can’t do it anymore?
You take a deep breath. And you do one step at a time. You congratulate yourself for doing that one thing. If you got out of your pjs today! Kudos and high five! Give yourself grace that you are doing the best you can and that is good enough.
How could you get crisis involved for someone you think may hurt themselves on a site like this? Personability comes when THEY want you to know specific things about them. Is there anything I can do for someone on a site like this? For clarity, I’m not currently overtly concerned about anyone specific, I would just like to know what I can do for them to get them help if the situation presents itself.
If you really are concerned about someone you can ask your local police or crisis to ask to do a welfare check on that person. It does not get the person in trouble. It really is saying I am concerned about this person and want them to stay alive. The crisis person then checks on that person. Many a time when I did that a person was so relieved to know someone out there CARED and then got them to the resources they needed.
I don’t know how to tell anyone who this person is or how to get help to them, which is my worry. Unless I can say that they were on this application and law enforcement can find out that way?
Yes police or crisis can find out who that person is. Many a person who has used an app or text service to get help…..and crisis is able to find them. Never hesitate to say exactly what you just said here. Here is the app, here is what the person is saying and can you look into it!
Is there a specific QPR link you recommend? I absolutely want to learn more. What other resources might I check out to learn more about supporting those who want to self harm or attempt suicide? I feel like I want to/need to learn more.
If you go to QPR Institute website you can put in your city and state and find out who does QPR training. I am a QPR trainer and we do a lot of community trainings for free. They will have the trainers in your area listed and you can find a class in your area. Everyone can do their part in saving lives!