B.C. funds gatekeeper training program on suicide prevention

Massage Therapy Canada staff
October 23, 2015
By Massage Therapy Canada staff
British Columbia's Ministry of Health has announced $3 million in funding to support the work of the Canadian Mental Health Association British Columbia Division in preventing suicide.

"Suicide does not discriminate. It affects individuals young and old and their families in every corner of this province," said Health Minister Terry Lake. "Prevention is a shared responsibility and we all have the potential to make a difference and save a life. This funding will help train British Columbians to recognize the warning signs of suicide and take action to help someone who feels they are in a desperate situation."

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), more than 3,500 Canadians die by suicide each year with approximately 500 per year in B.C.

CMHA's new community-based program uses a training model, called emergent gatekeeper, that equips people with the information they need to identify and help those at risk for suicide. Gatekeepers are not necessarily health professionals, but can also be those in a role of trust, such as teachers, coaches, police officers or clergy, who are positioned to encourage those in need to reach out. Gatekeepers must be 15 years of age or older in order to receive the training, the ministry said.

Certified instructors will use evidence-based training to prepare potential gatekeepers to become a suicide-alert helper by following the 'tell, ask, listen and keep safe' skills. This method teaches people how to recognize a mental health emergency, encourage a person at risk to get help and refer them to the most appropriate resource. It is expected that 20,000 gatekeepers will be trained around B.C. by 2018.

"Whether a gatekeeper is a teen watching for warning signs among his friends, a teacher in a busy school who notices changes in one of her students, or a member of a church group who is connected to the community, this funding will help all of them to learn what to watch for and how to help those in need," said Jane Thornthwaite, Parliamentary Secretary for Child Mental Health and Anti-Bullying.

The training program will be rolled out throughout B.C. over the next three years. In the first year the CMHA British Columbia Division will partner with health authorities to begin the program with communities that have already demonstrated an interest. In years two and three, the program will expand to communities across the province.

"This investment provides an important opportunity to help people and communities across B.C. better respond to the complex issue of suicide prevention," said CMHA B.C. Division chief executive officer Bev Gutray. "Awareness and skills can make a real difference if someone is worried about someone at risk of suicide."

The CMHA B.C. Division is working with the province, government agencies and other partners to roll out the program throughout the province. Emergent gatekeeper training programs are in jurisdictions across Canada, the United States and internationally.

"I applaud the provincial government for providing this funding for the gatekeeper program," said Brent Seal, mental health speaker and founder of Mavrixx. "I'm confident it will save lives and having lost friends to suicide and attempted it myself, it means a lot to see the government making suicide prevention a priority."

The funding supports the Ministry of Health's overarching strategy to create a more sustainable health system, as outlined in "Setting Priorities for the B.C. Health System." Key priorities include mental health and substance use supports and helping to ensure that British Columbians have access to the help they need at a community level.


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