Equipping young people in suicide prevention

The last Perspectives article focused on the community response model to youth suicide prevention where family doctors and school staff recognize and help a young person who is exhibiting warning signs of suicidality.

The last Perspectives article focused on the community response model to youth suicide prevention where family doctors and school staff recognize and help a young person who is exhibiting warning signs of suicidality. Another preventative measure is the work of community mental health workers to help educate and equip youth as front-line defenses in suicide prevention in our high schools. Adolescence is a time where peer relationships gain a lot of importance, and many of young people’s interactions are with other youth. Additionally, research indicates that youth often speak to other youth when they are feeling suicidal. This makes the introduction of the Ask Assess Act intervention model with our students so important. There are many adults and professionals who are trained to intervene, but can only do so when they become aware of suicidal concerns. As noted in the last column, youth suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescence (car accidents are number one). There is also a connection between mental health concerns (anxiety, depression, psychosis, etc.) and suicidality, so the community mental health workers are helping to promote overall mental wellness in youth as well as suicide prevention.

A function of this program is to help young people recognize suicidal warning signs in others, as well as the knowledge of where to receive help. Familiarizing young people with the Ask, Assess, Act model gives them the tools to recognize which of their peers are distressed, and to direct them to supports. The goal is not to have young people taking responsibility for their peers, but to become part of a network of support that includes knowledge of where to direct their peers for help. To this end, community mental health worker Nicole Leuthart has been working with a group of students at Sardis Secondary who decided to create an educational presentation around suicide warning signs and information on how to get themselves or others help. At Chilliwack Secondary, Jessie Kergan is working with a group of students who created an educational presentation, as well as a questionnaire for students on their mental health needs. The high school students are also presenting to middle school students about mental health and wellness. There are plans to promote National Mental Health Awareness week (May  2nd to 6th) and the students would like to establish a Peer Helping program within the school.

If you are thinking about harming yourself, or are worried about someone you know, please access the local Emergency Room, or 1-800-SUICIDE for immediate assistance. Feel free to call 1-800-Suicide even if you are just worried that someone you know may hurt her or himself.  Suicide is a very permanent response to any problem and there are supports and help out there. Being a good friend does not mean keeping secrets when someone could get hurt. The website youthinbc.com has some terrific resources around a variety of topics aimed at young people.

Marie Amos, MA, RCC, is a Mental Health Therapist with Child and Youth Mental Health of MCFD, Chilliwack.