We haven’t done anything until we affect change of curriculum, policy or legislation. I believe that when we begin to see change in these three areas we will know that we are on the right path to real social change in suicide prevention.
People in the communities where we live have a belief and think that there is a knowledge base within professionals when it comes to suicide. This is a fair assumption, but it’s also often false. I know, that as a former paramedic and a professional firefighter for over twenty years, I have no job related training in suicide or how to specifically respond to these calls, especially for those “left behind” or bereaved by suicide. When I started asking faculty members at Schools of Nursing across Canada, where the subject of suicide was discussed, it is often relegated to a small portion of the abnormal psychology class. When I gave the keynote address at the Canadian Nursing Students Association (who represent 28,000 nursing students across Canada) national conference in January 2013, they too were somewhat shocked to realize that their curriculum was essentially void, except for those who specialize in mental health, when it comes to suicide. Teachers that I have talked with at Laurentian University in Sudbury Ontario, openly expressed their need for greater training specifically on suicide. Even medical students at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine feel that there can be better and more effective training in suicide.
How do legislators debate suicide if they only have the tools that their parents gave them? How do principals make policy on how suicide is talked about and addressed in their school if they have no training? How does an emergency room nurse or physician effectively help someone with thoughts of suicide, in a timely manner, if they believe the patient is just looking for attention and that the emergency room is for trauma, heart attacks and “real” emergencies, when they too have no training? How do human resource professionals effectively create or direct health and safety policies, training and knowledge sharing on workplace mental health and suicide prevention if they were raised to believe mental illness is a weakness?
When I did a straw poll on the blog “Poll, what training do you have in suicide prevention?”, I was initially shocked by the response, but then it made sense why suicide is so hard to talk about. Social workers, nurses, medical students, teachers, first responders, human resource professionals, journalists….we all need training in suicide embedded in curriculum as a fundamental part of our learning. When this happens, we will erase stigma and begin to find solutions.
Further, as we imbed mental health and suicide prevention training in first year programs at universities and colleges, a greater safety net is created for emerging adults at this potentially vulnerable and transitional time. Along with progressive and innovative programs such as The Jack Project, we will continue to promote mental wellness for youth on campuses across Canada.
Whether it’s hiring policies or health and safety policies, when suicide is a part of polices for workplaces, we will see the end of stigma and the beginning of prevention. Imagine when hiring a teacher, coach or nurse for a remote First Nation community, that the employer had a hiring policy that gave preference to candidates with Mental Health First Aid, ASIST or SafeTALK. This would not only encourage pre-employment training in mental health, which is a cost saver for corporations, but it would also be a clear and open indicator that mental health and suicide prevention is a corporate priority.
CPR and First Aid training is mandatory in workplaces in Canada because it is proven to save lives and decrease risk of injuries to employees. Making SafeTALK mandatory, as part of workplace safety would have a direct affect on creating suicide safer workplaces and communities. SafeTALK, about three hours in duration, is training that prepares anyone over the age of 15 to identify persons with thoughts of suicide, keep them safe and connect them to suicide first aid resources. We need progressive corporate leaders who understand the need and are willing to make mental health a priority in their workplace.
“Studies show that First Aid training in conjunction with workplace safety training has the potential to result in a 20% drop in onsite injuries. A reduction in injured workers brings with it an increased confidence among your team and better productivity.” Seton Job Safety
First aid is mandatory as part of Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. “16.2 (1) Every employer shall establish, and keep up to date, written instructions that provide for the prompt rendering of first aid to an employee for an injury, an occupational disease or an illness.”
“First Aid & CPR training is mandatory for employees in the workplace; but unlike most other types of safety training, these skills and knowledge are also applicable to an individual’s daily life. This is why we teach people First Aid & CPR in easy-to-follow steps, empowering them to act on, prevent, and manage life’s emergencies.” Canadian Red Cross.
I believe strongly that SafeTALK needs to be made mandatory in all workplaces across Canada alongside CPR and First Aid. This legislated amendment would have a profound affect on suicide prevention in Canada.