Our History

With over 30 years as the world leader in suicide intervention training, we have a long and storied history.

Over three decades, our vision and training workshops have spread to places and organizations across the globe. Here is our story...

The beginning

The partnership that was to become LivingWorks began in Calgary, Alberta, growing out of volunteer work with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in the mid-1970s. In 1981, a multidisciplinary team consisting of Social Work professor Richard Ramsay, psychiatry professor Dr. Bryan Tanney, and counselor and education psychologist Dr. Roger Tierney developed the basis of the Foundation Workshop that would later grow into the ASIST program. Evolving out of an Alberta-wide suicide prevention plan, it was created to address the lack of effective suicide intervention skills among community helpers and clinical professionals. True to its name, the Foundation Workshop was conceived as a foundational learning experience upon which other programs could build and expand.

In keeping with the large-scale dissemination phase of our design and development method, a "Training for Trainers" (T4T) system was determined to be the most efficient way of supporting low-cost program delivery by local trainers. By 1983, counselor and education psychologist Dr. Bill Lang had joined the original three partners to support T4T and workshop development, and the four became a partnership known as RTTL (Ramsay, Tanney, Tierney, Lang). Click here to learn more about our founders and RTTL. As the Partnership became increasingly well known throughout the province of Alberta, demand for the Foundation Workshop increased, and the initial T4Ts saw long waitlists.

Moving beyond Alberta

The first out-of-province interest in the Foundation Workshop came in 1984, when Correctional Services Canada (CSC) requested the program nationwide for its front-line correctional staff. In 1985, with further out-of-province interest developing, the RTTL Partnership and the CHMA reached an intellectual property and program delivery agreement. RTTL was granted copyright over the newly renamed Suicide Intervention Workshop (SIW), as well as rights to disseminate the program outside Alberta. Within the province, the Alberta Division of the CHMA would retain distribution rights in perpetuity. RTTL remained responsible for training trainers via T4Ts and updating the program as necessary.

Following the intellectual property agreement, the next major development came in 1987, when the California Department of Mental Health (DMH) imported the SIW program for statewide delivery in all 58 counties as part of a three-year agreement. This contract was extended several times before coming to an end in 1996. Today, LivingWorks programs still have a major presence in California thanks in large part to the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA).

In 1989, the United States Army’s V Corps invited RTTL to deliver the SIW to the European Command in Germany as part of the Army's "Fit to Win" health promotion program. Two years later, following a successful initial implementation, the Army invited RTTL to provide leadership in its bereavement and grief training during Operation Desert Storm. 

A busy year

Many exciting developments took place in 1991. The RTTL Partnership incorporated as LivingWorks Education Inc., a start-up company supported by University Technologies International (UTI), the University of Calgary’s technology transfer and commercialization support organization. With a start-up loan to establish the company’s infrastructure, LivingWorks was UTI’s first investment in “soft products” such as skills training. A royalty agreement that came to an end in 2002 saw a return of nearly 600% on UTI’s initial investment.

suicideCare, a one-day workshop designed to provide clinical caregivers with skills to support people at longer-term risk of suicide, was also released in 1991. Providing a valuable complement to the SIW, suicideCare was well received by the clinical community. Another major development in 1991 came when LivingWorks co-foundersRichard Ramsay and Bryan Tanney, along with the CMHA’s Suicide Information and Education Centre (SIEC) were invited by the United Nations to organize, fundraise, and host a meeting of inter-regional suicide prevention experts. The goal of this meeting—the first of its kind in the world—was to develop a national suicide prevention strategy guideline that could be distributed to national governments and NGOs around the world.

Two years after the United Nations invitation, the meeting took place in Banff, Alberta, in 1993. With guidance from the LivingWorks representatives, the delegates agreed on a series of strategic guidelines, which were published in 1996 and continue to be used to this day. A draft of these guidelines also inspired a suicide survivor to mobilize a nationwide grassroots suicide prevention advocacy movement in the United States. The result was the United States’ first comprehensive national suicide prevention strategy, released in 2001. Revised and updated in 2012, this national strategy is now overseen by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, with several members of the LivingWorks leadership team serving on task forces and advisory groups.

Expanding around the world

With more nations and organizations becoming aware of the importance of suicide prevention efforts, LivingWorks’ SIW program continued to expand around the world. In 1995, Lifeline Australia received Commonwealth funding for a three-year field trial, and the program was subsequently adopted nationwide under the auspices of Lifeline. In the same year, Washington State launched a statewide suicide prevention program, with the SIW selected as the intervention training program of choice. Military services in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom also began to adopt the workshop at this time.

In 1997, LivingWorks co-founder Roger Tierney died of cancer. Instrumental in the development of the SIW and beloved by the trainer network, his loss was felt across the entire LivingWorks community. Click here to read more about Roger’s contributions to LivingWorks and see a memorial tribute from his fellow partners and trainers.

Regrouping after Roger’s death, the remaining founders pledged to honor his memory by continuing their shared work in suicide prevention. In 1998, the SIW was renamed ASIST—Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. The new name offered a good description of the workshop in addition to providing a clear acronym, and as worldwide adoption increased, ASIST became known as the global standard in suicide intervention training. 1998 also saw ASIST introduced to Norway through a medical school initiative at the University Hospital of North Norway. All materials and video programs were translated and re-filmed for Norwegian audiences. Spreading to nation-wide dissemination, VIVAT—the Norwegian version of ASIST—was embedded in Norway's national suicide prevention strategy and received permanent funding through the Norwegian Department of Health in 2007. VIVAT has also seeded training initiatives in Denmark, Lithuania, Russia, and Sweden.

Suicide prevention in the 21st century

Tarie Kinzel, a longtime trainer with extensive community experience in suicide prevention, became one of LivingWorks’ partners alongside Richard RamsayBryan Tanney, and Bill Lang in 2000. In the same year, LivingWorks developed a new program: suicideTALK. This awareness session enabled communities to learn about the importance of open and honest discussion of suicide in just a few hours. Also in 2000, at the invitation of the Army’s Chief of Chaplains Office, LivingWorks began providing bi-annual suicide intervention training to Army Chaplains and Chaplain Assistants. In 2001 LivingWorks became the primary provider of intervention training for the Army, and in 2003 the Army held the first ever in-theatre suicide intervention training in Iraq. United States Air Force Chaplains also launched a major training initiative to deliver ASIST beginning in 2000.

In 2001, an ASIST demonstration brought the program to Northern Ireland, where the first T4T was held in 2003. In that same year, Scotland also adopted ASIST as part of its national suicide prevention strategy, Choose Life, and began to train large numbers of caregivers in intervention skills each year.  Following these events, Mind Lewes hosted England's first ASIST T4T and the Republic of Ireland began deploying ASIST with support from the Irish Health Service in 2004. The workshop was formally adopted by their national strategy, Reach Out, in 2005. Wales launched a pilot training project in 2006 and included ASIST in its national strategy, Positive Choices, in 2008.

LivingWorks Education USA was founded in 2004 to provide localized training and development service to a growing list of American clients and affiliates. In 2005, after encouragement from the Australian Defence Force and in response to the need for a half-day workshop that could complement ASIST, LivingWorks developed safeTALK. By training community members in suicide alertness, safeTALK enabled them to connect those at risk to people who could carry out a full intervention, such as ASIST-trained caregivers. Many of the communities already using ASIST began providing the new program as well to increase the reach and effectiveness of their suicide intervention caregivers.

A thirty-year legacy

As 2009 came to a close, LivingWorks programs were delivered regularly in over 15 nations worldwide by a network of more than 5,000 trainers. New countries continued to get involved as well. In 2010, after attending Australian T4T, a distinguished group of Korean academics and clinicians began offering ASIST in the Korean Republic. The ASIST materials were translated into Korean a year later, and seed funding from the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention (KASP) allowed extensive distribution to teachers, the armed forces, and the faith community.

LivingWorks’ presence and activity also continued to grow in countries that had hosted workshops for years, including Canada, the United States, and Australia. In Canada, French and Inuktitut translations allowed workshops to be offered in all ten provinces and all three territories. In the United States, LivingWorks training was presented regionally or statewide in more than 25 states. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also standardized on ASIST training for its national network of crisis centers and crisis line counselors in 2006. A 2013 evaluation study found that ASIST-trained counselors helped callers feel significantly less depressed, less overwhelmed, less suicidal, and more hopeful compared to counselors not trained in ASIST. T4Ts and workshops expanded across Australia, which established its own LivingWorks office in 2012. The construction sector was one of the major beneficiaries of these programs, and workshops continue to be held regularly in all Australian states.

In 2013, LivingWorks marked the thirtieth anniversary of the RTTL partnership with an international conference in Calgary. The LivingWorks Legacy Conference brought trainers and leaders together from around the world to celebrate thirty years of collaboration and achievement. ASIST 11, the latest edition of LivingWorks’ flagship intervention workshop, was also launched at the conference. Later that year, LivingWorks released esuicideTALK to commemorate World Suicide Prevention Day. esuicideTALK brings suicide awareness online in a flexible, accessible format, allowing individuals and organizations to take the first steps toward suicide prevention.

2014 and beyond

In 2014, LivingWorks’ trainer network numbered over 7,500, and more than a million people around the world had been trained in ASIST. The number of T4Ts, workshops, and participants has grown steadily, with each year’s figures exceeding the last. The ASIST program continues to be recognized as the world standard for suicide intervention training, and its effectiveness has also been supported by many independent evaluations and the 2013 peer-reviewed study of its impact at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. LivingWorks has been recognized around the world for its contributions, receiving the three export development awards beginning in 1988, as well as the Canadian Social Policy Knowledge Broker award in 2002 and Scotland’s National Training Award in 2007. In 2009, another great honor came when ASIST was named one of Canada’s Culture of Peace Gifts to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Today LivingWorks continues to develop new workshops and update its existing programs with new editions, language translations, and audiovisuals. Our leadership team represents multidisciplinary excellence and expertise in the suicide prevention field, and there is a LivingWorks program for everyone who wants to help make the community safer from suicide—regardless of their previous training and experience. Find a training near you to get involved, or learn more about LivingWorks by exploring our vision, mission, and values and reading our core beliefs about suicide and its prevention.