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Dealing with suicidal thoughts? Okanagan professionals weigh in

Lake Country Calendar - 5/10/2019

As Canadians observe Mental Health Awareness week, May 6-12, CMHA Vernon, the RCMP and a local psychiatrist have weighed in on what to do when an individual is feeling suicidal; what services are offered and what to expect when making contact with each service.

A lively discussion recently took place on the Vernon Community forum on Facebook when an individual posed the following question: "If someone is feeling suicidal and needs to be admitted into 72-hour watch, can they just walk into the hospital and ask for help, or would they even be taken seriously, and just sent home? Had that experience a few times now. Don't know where to turn."

Many engaged with the post, offering support for the individual, and a wide array of opinions and suggestions were given as to what happens when someone has suicidal intentions.

In speaking with local professionals, we now have some answers.

"There are several things we're doing to work towards a suicide-safer community," said Paula Guidi, program coordinator for the CMHA Crisis Line. "We have suicide education that empowers and encourages people in the community to help when there's a crisis and we work to reduce stigma and shame around suicide because we want to open up conversations."

A main component of CMHA programming regarding the topic is the Crisis Line and 1-800-SUICIDE. In 2018, CHMA reported six per cent of calls were suicide-related. However, Guidi explained of that number, less than one per cent required active rescue.

Another program, called ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training), is a two-day workshop with a focus on how to provide suicide intervention. Other programs include SafeTalk, a program about suicide awareness where you learn how to talk to, and supply, someone with the proper avenues for help. For those who have already experienced something to do with suicide, a support group is also offered.

"I think the education piece is probably one of the most important pieces and then after that, because everyone can follow a plan, it's making sure you know when to initiate the safety plan, when to to call 9-1-1 or the RCMP or whoever else that may be," said Naaz Grewal, CMHA community educator.

While Vernon-North Okanagan RCMP Const. Kelly Brett noted suicide and other mental health calls are situational, officers are trained to approach every scenario with the sole purpose of guiding individuals to appropriate services. This is done via a risk assessment at the scene.

"Our job is just keeping people safe. We don't diagnose things or try to help people solve their problems,. We just want to make sure that they're in the right hands," said Brett.

She said if an individual is determined to be "apprehendable" under the Mental Health Act, officers will bring him or her to the hospital. The individual will remain in their care until seen and cleared by a psychiatric doctor. Dr. Paul Carey, a front-line clinician who works in VJH, and at the Mental Health Centre, explained that is the minority of cases.

"People just need to be validated in these feelings," he said, noting each case is different. "A number of assessments take place to determine how to best serve the individual."

Assessments include developing a safety plan through a structured assessment process, which is part of the training of emergency room nurses, physicians and social workers.

"We look at the resources people have, the support people have, we assess some of the risk factors that indicate to us that some people may be at higher risk of following through than others," Carey said.

"They would work with the client to assess (his or her) risk and then come up with a plan collaboratively as to how to manage that risk moving forward.

"We don't manage everyone who is suicidal in hospital necessarily."

Those deemed as high risk will be referred to a psychiatrist, who would then take responsibility for the patient and ultimately determine whether it is necessary to admit the patient to the hospital.

Carey added in cases where an individual is discharged, there would be an automatic referral to the community and the front line person through the Mental Health Centre would reach out via phone within 72 hours to check on how they're doing, if ongoing or additional support is needed.

"It's an evolving plan that changes on the fly, so we can continue to meet that person's needs and supply them with the best course of treatment to keep them safe," he said.

Suicide is one of the 10 top leading causes of death in Canada and is the second leading cause of death of people between 15 and 34 years of age.

Each day, 10 Canadians end their lives by suicide and 200 more attempt suicide.

All agencies implore individuals struggling with suicidal thoughts to seek help within their community.

 
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