Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, but if you visit the website of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (https://www.camh.ca/
), you will see the words “At CAMH, every day is Suicide Prevention Day.” I read that phrase a few times, being touched by the meaning—every day, this organization is actively involved in supporting individuals with suicidal ideation, conducting research and creating resources and programs to reduce suicide.
Calendar days of recognition are important from a publicity point of view, and no doubt from a fundraising perspective as well. But I like the CAMH’s approach. It isn’t about the recognition days. It is about the good work being done every day by people who care.
I want to highlight a few important organizations as we observe World Suicide Prevention Day: CAMH
(Canadian Mental Health Association—the acronyms for CAMH and CMHA are unfortunately similar, but they are separate and independent organizations), and another organization Assist works with, the Centre for Suicide Prevention
. When you work with individuals who are experiencing distress, your biggest fear is that you will find yourself assisting someone whose distress is profound and that, perhaps, you do not have the right level of skills and training to intervene successfully.
On Monday, twenty-five Assist peer support volunteers will be participating in an in-person Suicide Prevention Training session with the CSP. The training session is in Calgary because the CSP’s office is in Calgary, but we have a carpool of wonderful volunteers driving from Edmonton. This will improve our peer support bench strength when supporting lawyers and law students with mental health challenges. These volunteers, with these enhanced skills and training, can serve as resources to all of our peer support volunteers.
If a lawyer, articling student or law student calls Assist for peer support and tells us that they are suicidal, we are going to immediately connect them with Dr. Forbes and his clinical staff for crisis support because a higher level of intervention than peer support is called for. Full stop.
However, in the course of providing peer support to a lawyer, our volunteers may detect signals of suicidal ideation. We train our volunteers to ask the question “are you thinking about self-harm?” in accordance with best suicide prevention practices. And if the person says yes, we then connect them with appropriate crisis resources.
It is normal to be intimidated by the idea of having a conversation with someone and realizing that they have suicidal feelings. However, knowledge and training can combat fear. Here is a short summary for reference:
- Ask the person if they are thinking of suicide or self-harm. It shows caring, and it helps you identify next steps. Current research indicates that asking this question does NOT create suicidal ideations.
- If they say yes, tell them that you care about them and want to connect them with someone who can help. In the Assist community, this means calling our counselling office (1-877-498-6898). During business hours, the intake coordinator will connect your friend with one of our registered psychologists who are highly trained and highly skilled in interventions. After hours, call the same number (1-877-498-6898). We do not operate a call centre staffed with volunteers like a crisis care line. You will reach an automated system, and by pressing “0”, you will be connected with the psychologist who is on call.
- You can offer to help the person place the call and tell them that you will give them private space for their conversation with the psychologist if you are meeting in person. If you are on the telephone or Zoom, make sure you know where the person is, and then ask them to call you back after they talk to the counsellor (and then follow up—the call may be lengthy.)
- If you are still concerned about the safety of your friend, call 911. This is why you make sure you know where the person is. You may be worried that your friend will be irritated or angry if you request a wellness check—most of us dislike conflict, especially with someone who is already distressed, but if you believe that self-harm is imminent, then it is the right thing to do. Apply one of CAMH’s mottos: "Where there is help, there is hope". You are manifesting hope.
- If you are like me and can’t text while talking on the cellphone, know that you can email me for help connecting to crisis counselling. I am not a 24/7 service, but I will do my best. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to learn more about helping suicidal individuals, check out “How to Help Someone Thinking About Suicide
”, an excellent resource jointly created by CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association) and CSP. Being a dinosaur, I am going to print it and hang it on my bulletin board when I return to the office, but those of you who are more tech-savvy may want to bookmark it!
If you are concerned about mental health issues in our society, and suicide in particular, you can support the work of CAMH, CMHA and CSP by donating funds. They are not-for-profit organizations, and as much as I love it when lawyers donate to Assist, we are just part of a constellation of support services, and we need to support organizations who are doing ground-breaking work and research.
Law is a stressful profession and depression, substance use and other mental health challenges are prevalent
. It is important for everyone in the legal community to be aware of signs of distress and basic supportive responses.
Assist hosted a free Psychological First Aid webinar last December, open to the entire legal community in Alberta, and we can repeat this program if there is sufficient interest. In this webinar, Dr. Forbes explains the principles of administering Psychological First Aid in a distress or crisis situation. Assist can arrange for this program to be delivered in your workplace (there is a fee associated with delivery of this program other than through our regular free webinars.) Please let us know if you are interested in either the free webinar or a customized presentation at your office.
Tomorrow is also a day of remembrance, the twentieth anniversary of 9/11, an event that is scorched into the memories of those of us who were old enough to understand what was happening on that date. This year’s remembrance is impacted by the withdrawal of western forces from Afghanistan.
But I heard a heartwarming story this week that I wanted to share about how a group of Canadians responded to the events of 9/11. As it became apparent that airplanes had been commandeered as instruments of terrorism, aviation authorities around the world moved to ground all aircraft. One of the airports that received a large influx of grounded flights was Gander, Newfoundland.
Approximately 7,000 passengers and crew arrived in Gander, a community with 500 hotel rooms and 10,000 inhabitants. There are extraordinary stories about how the community welcomed these displaced people (and Come From Away
, the Broadway musical about how Gander embraced the “plane people”, will be available on Apple Plus
but I wasn’t aware until this week that bus drivers in Gander were on strike while aircraft were being diverted to their community. The strike was contentious, as labour disputes tend to be, and the lack of buses to transport incoming folks was identified as a logistical issue. However, while authorities were trouble-shooting transporting the incoming passengers, a steady stream of buses began arriving at the airport--—striking bus drivers had lain down their picket signs and voluntarily got back into their buses to start assisting the people who had been diverted to their isolated community.
We can pull together and set aside our differences even in the midst of extreme conflict. This is part of being human and being part of a community. And that is what I am going to be contemplating tomorrow.
Before I went to law school, I was an English major. I had several Norton Anthologies, very thick collections with tissue-paper type pages. I studied Canadian Literature, along with different literary forms and periods. But I did not encounter Indigenous Literature at all. The good news is that this was in the 1980s and we are finally aware of the beauty and richness that is Indigenous literature.
Why do we study literature? There are many reasons, but one of the most important ones is because it helps us understand a culture. Need I say more.
Without further adieu, here is today’s poem, which forms part of the current edition of the Norton Anthology of Indigenous Literature
: “We Are the Spirit of These Bones” by Richard Little Bear. He is an American Indigenous poet, but doesn’t this poem resonate with Canadian residential school burial sites?