Every day, an average of more than 10 Canadians die by suicide, making it the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults. Although this happens so frequently, we still face stigma around suicide and prevention efforts. This is why recognizing Suicide Prevention Month in September is so important. This awareness month provides us an opportunity to increase our awareness, dispel the stigma, and normalize and encourage conversations about mental health.

This month, we hosted a discussion with Alison, Netsweeper’s Product Marketing Specialist, and the Executive Director of the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council, Elisa Brewer-Singh. During this podcast we will discuss invitations for help and risk factors of suicide, stigmas surrounding this issue, and support and resources for those who may be struggling with their mental health.

Alison Bussey
Hi everyone and welcome back to Inside the sweeps. September is suicide Prevention Awareness Month and in light of this, we here at Netsweeper have connected with a local resource for suicide prevention to ask questions and open the discussion about the importance of promoting mental health while preventing possible harm.

Before we begin the discussion, we also recognize that this topic can sometimes feel heavy and may bring up a variety of emotions. So please know there are organizations available to provide support if you, if a friend or a loved one is struggling, including the Here 24/7 which can be reached at 1-844-437-3247.

So, let’s welcome to the podcast Elisa, why don’t you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council and how the organization was formed.

Elisa Brewer-Singh
Yeah, I’m happy too. And thank you so very much for this opportunity. My name is Elisa Brewer-Singh, and I am the Executive Director for the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council. In June of 1995, a group of over 80 concerned community members and agencies held a meeting to focus on suicide prevention and mental health issues. As a result of this meeting, several working committees were developed and then in 1997, what is now the WRSPC was established. And so, this year marks 25 years of us being part of this community.

Alison Bussey
Really great that we’ve had you in the community for so long, especially with recent studies suggesting that suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadian children over the age of 15 and is the third leading cause of death for kids aged 10 to 24. Sorry, 10 to 14, so knowing we all have a role to play in the work of suicide prevention, how do you know if someone is at risk and what should you do if you think someone maybe having suicidal thoughts?

Elisa Brewer-Singh
Yeah. When we when we talk about warning signs, we often refer to them actually as invitations for help. And I really do prefer this language as really that’s what they are. They’re an invitation to start a conversation. And so, when we think about, you know, how we might recognize if someone is struggling, any significant change in their behavior, in their mood is an invitation for help that just that they may be thinking about suicide.

And so, when we think about our youth, for example, some of the things that we may hear, some of the things that we might see would be a change in usual behavioral patterns. Maybe they are sleeping significantly more or less. Maybe they’re no longer attending the sport or club that they previously been so passionate about. Perhaps they’ve even expressed feelings of helplessness or hopelessness or loneliness. You know, they may have become withdrawn or isolated, or they may be experiencing significant mood changes. Some really high highs and some low lows.

And so, if you think that someone might be struggling with thoughts of suicide, reach out, reach out, express your concern, and be direct about it. It is OK to ask directly if someone is thinking about suicide. And there are some really great tools that are available. Bethere.org, for example, which walks an individual through how to have a conversation with someone that they might be concerned about.

Alison Bussey
I think that’s really great being having those tools to be able to speak directly and know how to help someone. So being aware of risk factors and warning signs can help detect someone that may be at risk or for attempting suicide. What are some factors or underlying issues that place individuals at a higher risk for suicide? I know some people might think about mental illness, substance abuse or even family history.

Elisa Brewer-Singh
Yeah. We know there are certain factors that can increase risk for suicide for some individuals and when multiple risk factors outweigh the factors that build resiliency, there is an increased likelihood that a person may think about suicide. And so, a few of these factors that might increase a risk for suicide includes internal stressors. So, this might be, you know, overwhelming emotional pain. This may be a diagnosis of mental illness.

This may be trauma, impulsivity, or certainly experiences of prejudice and discrimination. And then we also have these external factors, so these might be things such as bullying or a recent stressful event, especially if it relates to actual or perceived losses. And there are so many different kinds of losses when we think about loss, we all we often think about the loss of an individual, but there are many losses that we may experience throughout our lifetime.

You know, for our seniors, it may be a loss of mobility for, you know, adults in our lives that might be the loss of a job, the loss of a relationship. So, there are a lot of different losses that we may experience. It is important to note though, that just because somebody has some risk factors, it does not mean that they will attempt suicide, and this is why focusing on factors that can help build resiliency are really important.

Alison Bussey
I like how you speak to both the internal and external stressors that we might be seeing, especially when you think about suicide as a topic, it can be surrounded by a lot of falsehood and stigma. Debunking common myths associated with suicide can help. I mean, I think it can help society realize the importance of helping others seek treatment and resources, but also show individuals the importance of addressing their own mental health challenges. What are some common myths about suicide that you come across? I’m sure there’s many.

Elisa Brewer-Singh
There are perhaps one of the greatest myths is that talking about suicide or asking directly if someone is thinking about suicide will give or plant the idea in a person’s head. As a result, this is often the barrier to starting some of these really important conversations. Research has shown that talking about suicide does not cause people to think about suicide, and in fact asking about suicide can give an individual the opportunity to speak openly about what is going on. It gives them the opportunity to show that you care. You know, you’ve noticed some of these pieces. You’re reaching out. It also helps to erode that stigma. It promotes help seeking and help offering, which are really important pieces.

Another misconception or myth is that most deaths by suicide happen suddenly without warning, and this can be difficult because suicidal behavior is often thought of as impulsive but most often there are invitations for help. It’s just sometimes they may be very small. They may be subtle, and it can be very hard to pick up on, especially if we don’t know what to look for. And This is why it is so important to recognize, as you mentioned, that we all have a role to play in building this awareness within our community.

Alison Bussey
We’ve talked about the invitations for help and internal and external stressors, but as children grow older, it can sometimes become more challenging for parents or those around them to know what they are thinking and feeling. When children reach those preteen and teenage years, it can become even harder to distinguish the normal ups and downs of adolescents or warning signs of mental health issues. So, what can parents do to help their children cope with their feelings and what are some things they can do to help prevent potential suicide?

Elisa Brewer-Singh
Yeah. One of the ways that parents can help support their youth is really through conversation. You know, starting those, those important conversations, regularly checking in. And I know sometimes it’s difficult when, you know children are in some of those preteen and teenage years. But you know, when we think about resiliency, when we think about well-being, it’s important to recognize that every part of our lives help to shape the way in which we see the world and our experiences and ultimately all of these pieces are interconnected.

You know as much as we would love what happens in our home lives to be compartmentalized, and then in our school or work lives. And then, you know, in our extracurricular, there really is this thread that goes through each of those components. And so, if we are thinking about how do we build this toolbox, if you will it really includes things like how do we explore our emotional literacy? Can we communicate what it is that we are feeling?

There is a really great tool called the feelings wheel that parents can use within conversations to help their child identify what they’re really experiencing in a moment outside of what is our traditional kind of primary emotions such as happy or sad or mad. When we better label our emotions or when we can better able to identify some of these emotions, it allows us to problem solve what we might need in this moment.

So, for example, if I’m feeling very anxious as I approach a situation, I might take note that. Perhaps I don’t feel that I’m prepared enough. Perhaps I need to make a list so that I feel that I have everything that I need. That’s what can help address some of these feelings that I might be experiencing in a situation.

If we go back to building this toolbox, it’s also about elements like our relationships, learning to share what it is that we need. Do we have one or two people that we could check in with that we would feel comfortable talking about what it is that we need. And then, you know, we think about finding ways to incorporate physical activity, our creative outlets, all of these pieces are interconnected, and they really help, you know, build this toolbox for us.

Alison Bussey
So we’re talking about the, you know, building this toolbox and being able to have, discussions and communication. There’s research, that indicates that school environments may influence children and young people’s views on self harm factors like bullying, social media, children who may be targets of racism or stress can overall increase suicide attempts in school aged children.

The schools, along with of course teachers and staff, need to find ways to help increase suicide awareness and prevention. What are some suggestions or tips you have for teachers in schools to help achieve this?

Elisa Brewer-Singh
So I can speak to Waterloo Region because that’s where I’m from and we’re really fortunate in Waterloo Region to have mental health leads within our schools who support these really important conversations. And so, through the implementation of programs that focus on our social and emotional learning, you know they focus on the identification and management of the emotions that they spoke about as well as things like stress management and coping. Our youth begin to engage in these conversations, and they learn these tools that they can practice, and they start at a very young age.

And so school mental health, for example, is a resource that provides evidence-based information and resources that are relevant to an individual’s role within the school and would be just a great resource if people were looking for what they could implement in their particular environments.

Alison Bussey
That’s great. As previously mentioned, suicidal thoughts are increasing amongst young children, death by suicide is a tragedy that can have a lasting and profound impact on family, friends and really the larger community. As a non-profit organization that aims to increase awareness and ultimately help reduce suicide, what are services or what services do you provide and how do you support those experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviors?

Elisa Brewer-Singh
Yeah, WRSPC actually serves as a bit of a touchstone, I would say within the community and our work falls within three key areas that we refer to as hope, help and healing sort of from a more medical model. They may often be referred to as prevention, intervention and postvention, but we’ve really liked the shift to the language of hope, help and healing.

And so, hope is really that upstream community focused prevention work, which includes the distribution of educational resources, for example we have wallet-sized crisis cards for youth and adults that are quick reference, they talk about what are the resources that are available in the community. It also is awareness presentations within the community, within workplaces, within the schools, so that really encompasses the work of hope.

When we talk about help, this refers to the work for when individuals are struggling, and that includes funding suicide awareness training such as Living Work Start, which is a virtual training, there we go that teaches individuals how to recognize when someone is struggling and where to get help or how to get help.

And then the work of healing really focuses on supporting an individual after a friend or loved one has died by suicide. And so, we have resources, such as our ten-week Suicide Bereavement Support Group for those who have lost a loved one to suicide. While the majority of our work in hope, help and healing is regional we’re very fortunate as a community organization to also support provincial and national efforts.

Alison Bussey
You provide so many resources to the region, but what are some ways communities and individuals can get involved with the WRSPC and how will our contributions address the issue, empower youth, and help raise awareness?

Elisa Brewer-Singh
There are a few ways that the community and individuals can get involved with the WRSPC and support the work of suicide prevention. The first way is through training and educational opportunities. You know, as I as I just mentioned a minute ago, we do fund a lot of suicide alertness trainings. Most recently we’ve been offering start trainings, which is a one and a half hour virtual training that you can complete from the comfort of your own home. What I like about this training is it’s flexible. It allows you to begin and then come back if you need to pause, which is really beneficial because we all have such varying schedules and so that flexibility is really important. We offer these trainings free of charge. So, if anyone is ever interested, they can reach out to us and, you know, ask more of information about the training or we’d be happy to register them.

We also offer a lot of presentations to the Community, whether it’s to workplaces, clubs, groups, churches, the schools, and so people may consider if perhaps there’s a community that they belong to where it may be beneficial to have some increased awareness. We’d be happy to come in and provide a presentation. If you’re not local, there are a lot of different organizations that I know would be happy to, to provide that, that key information also.

And then another way really that you can get involved is through attending our community events. Traditionally in sort of the winter months as we come into fall and then lead into winter, we host a number of free community skates that really focus on life promotion. It’s a chance to, you know, use some of those tools to exercise through positive like messaging at these events, we often have resources for families. And then in the past we’ve also partnered with some community organizations to host resiliency evenings for youth. So, any of these community events are just a great opportunity to connect in and get involved with WRSPC.

Alison Bussey
It’s really amazing how many resources and events you provide in order to support the community, but when we look to those who are experiencing mental health challenges, parents, educators, what are some resources and prevention work that WRSPC provides or does to reduce suicide and its impact?

Elisa Brewer-Singh
Yeah, I’ve mentioned a few already, but I think at one of our greatest resources really is our website which is wrspc.ca. There’s a lot of information on the website around how do I help myself, how do I help support someone I know or maybe perhaps I’m coping with the suicide loss. And so that’s a great tool that you can visit.

We are also very active on social media. One of the things that we do is called resource Thursday where we will sort of spotlight community agencies, programs, trainings, tools that are available that the community might be interested in. And then on our website, you’ll also find links to past campaigns that we have run over social media. There is a link, for example to a Winter and an April Break Wellness Passport that we had hosted over the breaks last year. It was a really great tool just to get involved and focus in on a couple different areas of well-being.

And then it also you can find our #365convos campaign where we featured a conversation or a resource every Monday for an entire year. It was sort of a continuation of Bell Let’s Talk Day from 2021. We took the entire year of 2021 to ending in January of 2022 just to have these really important conversations within the Community. And so, there is access to all of those posts and videos on the website.

Alison Bussey
It’s really great you are mentioning the website and social media and the availability of using technology as part of how we can help support. Technology like Netsweeper’s onGuard that protect students proactively by monitoring and alerting administrators in schools to activity that can indicate a potential risk to a student’s well-being or there’s R;pples interceptive tools that are being used to help people at risk. What role do you think technology can help play and help lessen the impact of harmful online signals?

Elisa Brewer-Singh
You know, when we think about suicide prevention and truly a whole community approach, it really is about using all of the tools that are available to us. So, over the past several years, you know, the advancement in technology has been significant. There have been many apps, digital programs that have been developed that not only support our mental wellness and well-being, but also can help us identify some individuals who may be struggling. And so, because suicide itself is so complex, this ability to incorporate a variety of tools that work collaboratively, you know, with all of the community, truly is beneficial.

Alison Bussey
I really like the idea of like a whole community approach and incorporating all these tools collaboratively. As you said, it’s it is a complex issue and being able to have all of these outlets available to support I think is really important.

So, we’re just about to finish up. I am so happy that you were able to join us for the podcast today, but are there any closing comments or thoughts you’d like to leave with us in the audience?

Elisa Brewer-Singh
I think if we just had one kind of closing take away, it would be our community really does have a key role to play in raising awareness and supporting people who are struggling in the important work that I mentioned of hope, help and healing. You know this is important and collective role was reflected in this theme or in the theme, sorry, that was chosen for this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, which was just this past or a couple Saturdays ago on September 10th. And the theme was creating hope through action.

You know, as members of the community, we can watch for those who may be struggling. We can check in with them. We can encourage them to tell their story in their own way. You know, at their own pace and seek supports, you know, offering this opportunity to be present, to listen in a non-judgmental way can truly make all the difference. And so, I think it’s just this reminder that our actions, whether they are big or small, may provide help and hope to individuals who are struggling. And so, I really just encourage everyone who is listening to think about how they can be part of a community that is working together to support suicide prevention?

Alison Bussey
I think those are some amazing thoughts to leave us with. Thank you so much again for joining us. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk about and discuss the importance of promoting mental health and really raising awareness around suicide. Thank you so much again!

Elisa Brewer-Singh
Thanks so much for having me.

Suicide Prevention Resources

While there is still much work to be done in terms of suicide prevention, we have made significant progress over the past few years. As we continue our efforts on suicide prevention, let’s remember that it takes all of us working together to make a difference in the lives of those struggling with their mental health.

There are many resources available to help you or someone you know with suicide prevention. Here are some of the organizations you can reach out to if you need support.

You are not alone. Together we can prevent suicide 💛