A recent death by suicide of a Cochrane young person has parents talking, school personnel responding, and youth feeling a variety of emotions.
Chris Pawluk, Rocky View Schools Lead Psychologist, says when tragedy affects the school population, the school board's focus turns to supporting the entire student body and making sure resources are available to prevent future attempts.
"We want to prevent them where we can. We want students to engage in help-seeking behaviour when they have any kind of distress, whether that is suicide ideation or other things. We want them to have really good relationships with a teacher or a bunch of teachers and to have them go to those people when they need support and we saw that on Tuesday after we heard the news."
A team of people plus guidance counsellors were made available in school to support all students but especially those where family/friend relationships were already stressed or fractured. Pawluk, shares intervention is critical to prevent others from having similar thoughts or attempting themselves. "We were there for Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday with up to five extra people depending on what was going on just to make sure we had enough support for the students to access. We wanted the teachers to have the knowledge around things to look for in students as well as how to support students who might have questions."
Pawluk states it is important for youth to know the emotions they feel around an attempt or suicide completion are normal even though it can be difficult for them to understand. "They are often angry at the person for doing that, angry at the world for letting it happen, and quite often guilty of what could I have done to stop that or it is my fault; then often they get anger and guilt together which is a really unusual emotional experience for a lot of kids."
While teachers generally know which students may have tendencies, the school act does not mandate school boards to track students who have/had suicide ideation. "There is no place to even keep that kind of information in a legal sense, so even students who are hospitalized for mental health concerns we don't have a legal mandate to collect that information which can be problematic." Having that information could be beneficial or detrimental depending on how it was handled and disclosed.
A zero suicide approach is something more and more schools are working towards and it starts with changing the dialogue. "The conversation has to change, we have to try to take the approach that no suicide is inevitable, and all suicide is preventable and we need to do more."
When tragedy struck Cochrane in 2015 it was clear a more integrated approach needed to be taken when it came to supporting students, says Pawluk. While it will take time to develop, Rocky View, Calgary Catholic/Public, and Golden Hills School Divisions have been working in collaboration with Alberta Mental Health Resources and Centre for Suicide Prevention to put together a new suicide ideation protocol to help teachers and staff members handle concerns they either have or have been disclosed to regarding a students safety or feelings around ending their life. "We want to have a process that would mean it would be really, really hard for those kids to fall through the cracks including a much more comprehensive assessment of their risk so we are able to send them to the right place."
During school, kids have access to teachers, guidance counsellors, and child development advisors but with Christmas holiday's around the corner we have comprised a list of resources community members can access at any time.
- Family and Community Support Services 403-851-2250
- Addiction and Mental Health Services 403-851-6100
- Cochrane and Area Victim Services 403-851-8055
- Cochrane Community Health Centre 403-851-6000
- Boys and Girls Club of Cochrane and Area 403-981-2020
- Cochrane RCMP 403-932-2211 or 911
- 24 Hr Distress Centre Crisis Line 403-266-4357
- 24 Hr Community Resource Team 403-299-9699
- Calgary Communities Against Sexual Assault 1-877-237-5888
- Child and Family Services 403-297-2995
- Connection Line (264-Teen, Peer Talk Line) 403-264-8336