Suicides are hard to talk about, especially after the heartbreaking losses students have experienced in the past few years. As a result, the Student Success Centre's program safeTALK offers an opportunity for everyone on campus to learn more about discussing the issue.
The program takes place throughout the year and provides people with the right language and knowledge to detect signs of suicidal ideations present in others. What makes safeTALK special is its encouragement to approach the conversation without fear. safeTALK aims to dismantle the stigma that stops people from talking on the matter and also points out particular services offered on campus for participants to direct people when they see others in need.
Co-ordinator of student engagement programs Brent Boles believes this service feeds a hungry campus of people interested in learning more about mental health and suicide prevention. Every day he is constantly impressed with students' willingness to learn about these matters and he believes offering safeTALK aids the campus community with greater knowledge and a problem that affects us all.
"A program like safeTALK allows us the opportunity to arm any member of the community with the strategies, techniques and tips that they need to take someone who is having thoughts of suicide and make sure we can connect them to the resources they need," Boles begins.
"I think when doing that we create not just a campus but a community where we are more cognizant of mental health challenges and cognizant of thoughts of suicide and we are more willing and able to recognize when those thoughts are occurring and we feel more emboldened to take steps to help people help themselves."
Learning how to approach a conversation about suicide is one of the fundamental steps in being a support system in their time of need. One of the most important qualities Boles points out is the act of listening, truly and wholeheartedly. Even though he recognizes this is something we do every day, he believes that it is in the simple actions and statements where one can identify a behavioural change in another.
Understanding this information is one of safeTALK's takeaways, but he admits that the success of this training is difficult to quantify saying, "If we're successful, we'll never hear — and that's the hope. The hope is that by providing students and members in the campus community with the knowledge and resources to be more active in these conversations that people are getting the help that they need."
Rebecca Smith, scholars program and academic outreach coordinator and safeTALK trainer, echoes Boles' statements. Measuring their success is not their aim for the program but rather making Western's campus safer for everyone.
"The more and more people [who] can talk about their feelings, mental health, issues surrounding suicide, I think the more often we will hear people coming out about their thoughts of suicide or their mother's thoughts of suicide," she says. "I think the more we can have the conversation about this topic, just broadly, I believe it reduces the taboo and stigma that certainly swirls around the subject."
The next safeTALK session is planned during the Student Success Centre's Leadership Education Program Summit, starting this Sunday on March 12. The summit will include a series of workshops for students to develop various leadership skills like conflict management, public speaking and facilitation. Registration closes on Friday at 4 p.m.
Students interested in developing their leadership skills and learning more about suicide prevention are welcome to participate in the day-long symposium. This will be the last public opportunity to participate in safeTALK, but Smith assures there will be more possibilities next semester for those who do not register in time.
In the mean time, Boles and Smith look forward to next wave of participants of both safeTALK and the summit. Encouraging more conversations and knowledge on mental health builds a stronger and safer campus community for everyone, and they hope this philosophy extends off Western's campus to ensure a safe, stigma-free society in the future.