Developing Community Based Volunteer Suicide Response Teams

Suicide can affect each and every community. In some communities suicide is prevalent, while in others suicide is less common but still worrisome. Communities decide to develop a Volunteer Suicide Response Team (VSRT) for various reasons. Often times communities wish to ensure their members are provided a local, culturally safe and informed suicide crisis response. Other communities are geographically isolated making accessing outside support difficult. Being a visable minority within a large community can be isolating. Some diverse groups wish to train their members to respond to the unique suicide needs within their community.

Volunteer Suicide Response Teams consist of community members who have attended an initial multi-day training. This preparation enables them to provide immediate, safe and culturally competent suicide intervention responses. In addition to suicide intervention training, volunteers are taught how to engage with individuals calling the community's suicide crisis line and how to provide in-person team response. Individual safety is addressed throughout the training. Though some volunteers may be experienced counselors, VSRT volunteers are not counselors. Their role is to provide immediate crisis response, education, follow up, and referral. Volunteer Suicide Response Teams do not replace the need for other services; rather they are designed to enhance services already present.

Though variations are possible, including shortening the hours or providing telephone support only; typically the Volunteer Suicide Response Team provides 24 hour telephone and mobile suicide crisis response.

Initial crisis contact with the team typically occurs over the phone or through text messaging. The caller may be the person at risk of suicide, or a family member or friend of someone at risk. In addition, some teams decide to respond to requests from emergency services, hospitals and/or community professionals. Often the crisis response ends with a supportive telephone conversation, at other times the volunteers provide immediate in person support.

Creation of a VSRT is done in close collaboration with the sponsoring organization, village, Band or town to ensure the team is designed to best meet the community's needs. The organizing agency also receives support in creating the mechanics of the program, including establishing a crisis line, building linkages with other agencies, and developing a Term of Reference that lays out the purpose, structure, and accountability of the team. Teams receive recommended formats for all suggested paperwork including oaths of confidentiality, scheduling and record keeping. Additional training and ongoing support is also available.

Following is a brief sample of recommended topics covered during the initial multi-day training. Please note, the exact training will be specifically designed to meet the needs of the community and the skill level of those attending the training. Volunteers completing the preparation will gain both knowledge and experience increasing their confidence to provide an effective suicide crisis response.

Getting Started
  • Confidentiality
  • Opening Discussion Circle
  • General suicide information, including community related statistical data

Helping Others
  • Noticing the warning signs & key indicators
  • Asking about suicide
  • The role of listening
  • General & group specific risk & protective factors
  • Risk assessment considerations
  • Safety planning
  • Community resources
  • Follow up support

Helping Myself
  • Personal wellness
  • Safety plan development

Helping our Community
  • Promotion & Building Linkages
  • Crisis line start up
  • Scheduling
  • Team follow up
  • Closing Discussion Circle

For further information please email