Suicide awareness training has been added to the Northern Ontario School of Medicine’s curriculum in response to the high rates of suicide in northern Ontario.
“It’s something that is being welcomed by the medical school, from the students to the faculty,” said Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler Fiddler said. “It’s something that is needed and we also commend them for recognizing that this is a real issue for our communities and that they are doing something about it.”
Fiddler said it is important that students be made aware of the situation in Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities, noting there is a high risk of suicide.
“I think it is important that training like that is made available to other professionals as well, especially those that are travelling and working in our communities,” Fiddler said.
Fiddler said safeTALK training is currently being delivered to professionals working in Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities, including teachers. Community support workers, including youth, are also receiving and facilitating safeTALK workshops in about half of NAN’s 49 communities.
“SafeTALK training is a vital resource to help identify and prevent potential suicide in NAN First Nations, the majority of which are remote and lack adequate professional health care resources, and goes hand-in-hand with ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) training to provide direct aid to individuals who may have thoughts of self-harm,” Fiddler said. “We need to change mindsets from coping with suicide to advancing life promotion through programming and training in order to build resilient, healthy communities.”
NOSM’s first-year students are now undergoing safeTALK training through a three-hour program created by LivingWorks, a suicide intervention training company that trains participants to identify persons with thoughts of suicide and to connect them with suicide first aid resources. NOSM is also developing and piloting other tools designed to help medical students deal with suicide in their future practice as physicians.
“The Northern Ontario School of Medicine was the first medical school in Canada established with an explicit mandate to improve the health of the people and communities that it serves,” said David Marsh, interim associate dean, Undergraduate Medical Education. “Integrating safeTALK training into our MD curriculum supports students and future health professionals of northern Ontario in responding to the increased prevalence of suicide and self-inflicted injuries in the north.”
Scott Chisholm, founder of the Collateral Damage Project, congratulated NOSM on adding the safeTALK training component to their first-year curriculum.
“People hear about an issue such as suicide and think, ‘this is bigger than me,’” Chisholm said. “But, there are tangible changes that we can all make - including talking about suicide - that go a long way in reducing stigma and breaking myths. I am so excited about the partnership between NOSM and Collateral Damage, and the potential we have for inciting positive change in northern Ontario.”
The Collateral Damage Project is a Thunder Bay-based group of suicide prevention advocates that work to prevent suicide by stomping stigma, creating proactive dialogue and pushing for gatekeeper training.
“As a medical school committed to improving the health of northern Ontarians, we need to play our part in reducing the shockingly high number of deaths that occur from suicide in our region,” said Brian Ross, NOSM professor and phase 1 coordinator.
I grew up in my home community of Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast and there were a lot of challenges living in the far north.
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