Pat Doyle recalls the uphill battle getting her suicide prevention spiel into P.E.I. schools years ago.
“There were some concerns early on,’’ said Doyle, the suicide prevention co-ordinator with the P.E.I. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
“We had many discussions with the Department of Education, with school boards.’’
Some schools held off initially when Doyle started presenting the Signals of Suicide program to Grade 9 students two decades ago. She said some feared such open talk might plant the idea of committing suicide in the heads of some students.
In Canada, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth aged 10 to 24, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). On average, 294 youth take their own lives each year and for every suicide, there are many more attempts.
However, Doyle said CMHA saw positive outcomes in having tough conversations with students about suicide prevention.
The local division adopted a proven, well-recognized strategy developed by the Vancouver Crisis Centre and persisted in reaching students.
It took a handful of years to eventually get into every school on P.E.I. with Grade 9 students, which was the grade level where it has always been introduced in the health curriculum in the province.
“I feel that it is also a good time because in terms of their maturity level, they are at a stage in Grade 9 where they are mature enough to handle that conversation and to have it safely without negatively impacting other students,’’ said Doyle.
For those seeking help
The Island Helpline, which operates 24/7, is 1-800-218-2885 provides free, confidential emotional support and crisis intervention to Islanders of all ages.
Doyle, who is in her 19th year of presenting the suicide prevention program to Grade 9 students in P.E.I., said she started to see after 10 years more openness in talking about the once extremely taboo subject.
“It’s been a slow evolution, but it’s been constant,’’ she noted.
In the early days, she encountered many students who tuned her out, burying their head in their arms as she talked suicide prevention.
She feels more skilled at engaging students today. She has added brainstorming activities, making the 80 minutes spent with each group of Grade 9 students more of a discussion than a lecture.
She is also excited about Film P.E.I. working with CMHA on a new video to be introduced in the program during the next school year, replacing one that is considered too long at 22 minutes and is a little dated.
“We want to stay with the times,’’ she said.
Current research indicates that comprehensive school-based suicide prevention programs have the potential to reduce youth suicide rates, according to the CMHA. It also suggests that a majority of youth reach out to a close friend first when they have a problem and to adults second, if at all.
Sheila Doyle-Hogan, a counsellor at East Wiltshire Intermediate School, said several students have wanted to talk about concerns over a family member, friend or themselves after participating in the Signals of Suicide program.
“Junior high students are really good at sharing their feelings,’’ she said.
“Often times they share with their friends, who would come to me or go to a teacher and share.’’
Signals of suicide
The following are indicators that a person may be contemplating suicide:
- Talks about suicide or wanting to die
- Changes in mood or ongoing sadness
- Changes in appearance, behaviour and habits
- Giving away possessions
- Abusing drugs and/or alcohol
- Avoiding friends, family and activities
- Causing harm to self
MENTAL HEALTH RESOURCES
How to get help: If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health help, go to the nearest hospital, call 911, or call the province’s crisis line at 1-800-218-2885.
For additional provincial resources, visit princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/health-pei/mental-health-services
Anywhere in Canada, you can contact:
Kids Help Phone
Crisis Services Canada
• Text: 45645
• Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca
Canadian Mental Health Association websites