Patti Vermette’s most important message to adolescents who are thinking about suicide is to talk about it.
Vermette is the facilitator of the Suicide Prevention Program, which the Wachiay Friendship Centre recently began offering in Comox Valley schools to students in Grades 8 to 12. The program was previously offered by the Crossroads Crisis Centre.
The interactive presentation, which is just over an hour long, looks at some of the feelings that might lead to suicide, the signals of suicide, what to do if you or someone you know is suicidal and what resources are available, explained Vermette.
Vermette’s biggest message is “don’t keep it a secret.”
“Whether you’re dealing with your own suicidal thoughts or concerned about a loved one, talk about it,” she said.
At the beginning of her presentation, Vermette asks a student to volunteer and she uses sandbags to represent the challenges people face in their day-to-day lives. As she progresses, she adds more sandbags as she speaks about different stressors.
Vermette speaks about what someone who is suicidal might be feeling and what their behaviour might look like, as she says there is often a change in behaviour.
“We talk about the signals of suicide, which are preparation for death, previous attempts at suicide and references to being dead,” she said. “If you are experiencing any of these or know something who is, we need to get help right away. This is something where you don’t want to wait.”
Vermette will also speak about mental health issues, as she says depression and anxiety are two of the biggest contributors to suicide.
When asked what people can do to help someone they suspect could be suicidal, Vermette says the first thing is to talk to them.
“Ask,” she said. “Be direct. Ask if they’re planning on killing themselves. Listen, nod gently and get help. Because teens and young people really count on their peers for support, we emphasize they need to bring an adult with them. You can be a supportive friend, but you need an adult who can take the next step and go to the resources.”
At the end of her presentation, Vermette shares resources and tells the students who they can contact to help them through it, such as a teacher, parent, school counsellor or other trusted adult in their life.
While the program is geared toward students in Grades 8 to 12, Vermette says she is happy to do her presentation for Parent Advisory Councils or other community groups.
She says the program would have to be adapted a bit for elementary schools.
The Wachiay Friendship Centre is considering offering the presentation to Grade 7 students later in the year, but that will depend on assessing the situation and seeing if it is appropriate, explained Vermette, adding she knows Grade 7 students have received this workshop in the past.
Vermette’s presentations have been well received so far.
“From the feedback I’ve received from students and from staff, the feedback has been really positive, and, for the most part, kids have been very grateful because they feel they have tools now; they don’t feel so lost,” she said.
“I think it’s helped teachers, too. Teachers are feeling the effects of the suicides in the community and wondering, as we all do, what we could have done and what we all could do.”
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The Canadian Mental Health Association offers a list of common suicide warning signs:
• sudden change in behaviour (for better or worse);
• withdrawal from friends and activities, lack of interest;
• increased use of alcohol and other drugs;
• recent loss of a friend, family member or parent, especially if they died by suicide;
• conflicting feelings or a sense of shame about being gay or straight;
• mood swings, emotional outbursts, high level of irritability or aggression;
• feelings of hopelessness;
• preoccupation with death, giving away valued possessions;
• talk of suicide: eg. “no one cares if I live or die;”
• making a plan or increased risk-taking;
• writing or drawing about suicide (in a diary, for example);
• “hero worship” of people who have died by suicide.
For more information, visit www.cmha.ca.