The Vancouver Island Crisis Society web page urges people to reach out for help.

The Vancouver Island Crisis Society web page urges people to reach out for help.

For suicide prevention silence is not a strategy

Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District protocol HELPs students at risk



It’s a word we don’t like to say – especially when we fear someone we love may be thinking it – as if breaking its taboos might somehow make it real.

But at Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District they speak about suicide openly and systematically, because the experts know when you talk about it with staff, students, parents – and especially young people who may be fixating on it – you save lives.

“It’s not an easy conversation to broach,” said SD68 Assistant Superintendent Bob Esliger. “When a student approaches, staff have to have the training and skill to enter into the conversation.”

It’s crucial that staff and even students have a clear idea what needs to be done when they feel a student is at risk. “We want to make certain that staff have a full understanding of our protocol and full and complete training to intervene.”

Misconceptions around suicide, who’s at risk and when make that a difficult message to get across, and one that needs to be emphasized routinely. For instance, parents and teachers may not realize how early suicidal ‘ideation’ can take place.

Elementary counsellor Trina Norgan says it’s not only distraught teens who need to be watched-out for. “We see students very young, by Grade 3, making comments about suicide,” she said, “certainly by Grade 5 or 6 when students are 11 or 12 years old.”

Like everyone else who deals with issues of suicide prevention, Norgan came to the same point: if you suspect a child – or anyone else for that matter – is at risk, you have to ask if they are thinking of suicide.

“Asking that question does not prompt students to start thinking about it,” Norgan said. Secondary counsellor Scott Christianson agreed. “In my experience when they are asked the question, they generally feel a sense of relief,” he said.

It’s not good enough to ask a child if they are thinking of ‘harming’ themselves, either. They might be, and say so, but they might also be thinking of going farther.

Students who are showing signs of suicidal ideation, or who are actually talking about it, are often ‘crying out for help,” Esliger said. When the call comes, you need to answer, and  know where to get help.

That’s where the SD68 protocol kicks in. Staff and students need to know that there are steps that can be taken, which will help students who are at risk, otherwise the likely response for a cry for help will be avoidance.

Esliger refers to the HELP acronym, which is part of the protocol: If you are Hurting, or suffering Emotional pain, or Loss, we have to develop a Plan to see you through it.

Nanaimo Ladysmith School District has built a close relationship with the Vancouver Island Crisis Society, which operates the Vancouver Island Crisis Line, over more than a decade. Together they have developed an integrated and comprehensive approach.

Lindsay Wells, public education program coordinator with VICS, says the approach is multi tiered, beginning with counselors, youth workers, teachers and administrators in schools.

Students are brought into the loop, too. “We’ve got programs for students as early as Grade 5 and going right on up to Grade 12,” Wells said, “so that everybody has a role to play and some knowledge of what to do.”

For Esliger the objective is a school system that encourages youth to speak up on their own behalf, or on behalf of others. And after more than a decade, the program is working.

Every fall a district meeting is convened where counsellors, youth workers and other school staff from every school attend a meeting where the district’s suicide protocol is reviewed and emphasized.

One person from that meeting then takes the same message to every school at a staff meeting.

“We’re creating an environment where kids are coming to us,” he said. And students are responding; reports of students at risk have become more frequent. “Every year they have gone up and last year was the highest they’ve ever been,” Esliger said. “That’s the best thing, because they’re talking.”

But is the message getting out to parents that there is help for them, if they fear their children are at risk? That will be covered in the Dec. 1 issue of the Chronicle, in Part II of this article.


Just Posted

The Crofton trailer park home where the bodies of two people were found. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Mom still waiting for answers after daughter and her fiance found dead in Crofton

Pair discovered dead in their Crofton home in May identified as Rachel Gardner and Paul Jenkins

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

CVRD to increase enforcement after audits reveal that curb-side recycling contamination in the district is well above acceptable limits. (File photo)
CVRD reports contamination in recyclables well above acceptable levels

Increased enforcement planned starting this summer

A conceptual rendering of the commercial plaza at 1130 Rocky Creek Road. (Town of Ladysmith/June 15 Council Agenda)
Rocky Creek commercial plaza passes public hearing

The proposed plaza at 1130 Rocky Creek Road would bring commercial activity to Ladysmith’s north end

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

Most Read