ABOYNE – Wellington County has a new suicide support program.
Support after Suicide, offered through the Here4Hope initiative, is a partnership between the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington (CMHA) and the Wellington County OPP.
The new program is largely a result of research completed by CMHA suicide prevention lead Cecilia Marie Roberts when she created the framework for Here4Hope, a Wellington County initiative that aims to bring together the community to learn about and engage in suicide prevention.
Over the course of Roberts’ research she spoke to many different people impacted by suicide: the bereaved, those who attempted suicide, community members, service providers, etc.
“It became very clear to me that there were a lot of people in Wellington that had been impacted in various ways by suicide, whether it be a family member, or a friend, or a colleague or perhaps witnesses and even our first responders and people who do inherent caregiving roles like folks at CMHA and what not,” Roberts said.
“And we know that when people have been impacted by suicide it can potentially be a risk factor. It can increase their vulnerability.”
She said it is important for those people impacted by suicide to have supports, but in Wellington County that was lacking.
“It was a gap in service in this community and that is not uncommon,” Roberts said. “I wouldn’t be speaking out of turn if I said it was a gap in most communities in Ontario.”
Roberts said that while there are many bereavement programs in the county, bereavement for a death by suicide is unique.
“The challenges can be a little more intense,” she said. “There’s often a lot of trauma that’s associated with this kind of loss. It’s a sudden, frightening loss.”
Roberts called it “complex grief.”
“A harder road to navigate and the reality is that many people don’t reach out because of the stigma,” she said. “And they are not able to really manage being able to say, ‘hey this was a suicide and I need some help.’”
That is why CMHA partnered with Wellington County OPP to fill the gap for all seven member municipalities.
“The OPP (is) certainly a partner who understands how tough it is in the aftermath of a suicide,” Roberts said. “Not only because they’ve had their own losses internally, but because they’re there on the ground every single time when someone dies by suicide.
“They were very open and understanding and interested in looking at something that we could create that would be a made-in-Wellington solution.”
The two organizations got together and applied for the here247.ca from the Ministry of the Solicitor General.
“We were lucky enough to get that grant for three years and so we’ve put together the team and they’ve been sort of quietly working behind the scenes,” Roberts said.
The team was created before the COVID-19 pandemic and has been offering some supports over the last few months. However, the official launch of the Support after Suicide program was on Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day.
The team consists of three people: a mental health clinician, a peer navigator who has lived experience and an OPP officer.
“Our bereaved folks really told us how important it was and how quite frankly special and impactful it was to be able to have a conversation with someone who’s been there, who’s actually had a loss like this,” Roberts said.
“The officer will be there to be coordinating with the team to support any questions that might come up for the family in the aftermath around the investigation, the coroner’s issues and things like that.”
The OPP officer will have other responsibilities in the detachment but all will be focused on mental health.
“We want to be a service to our community, and we need that liaison officer to bridge between perhaps the family that’s having issues and the Support after Suicide program,” detachment commander Paul Richardson said. “So that officer is just that internal single point of contact so CMHA knows who to contact and we know who to contact in CMHA.”
The team will offer a “specialized understanding of what the processes is around the grief after suicide,” Roberts said.
“The support is intense, and it happens over a relatively long period of time.”
The team of three has received specialized training to offer suicide support.
When someone dies by suicide the OPP is likely to be on scene but it will be Victim Services that offers support initially. Then Victim Services or the OPP will introduce those impacted to the Support after Suicide team.
“Within the next day or so the team would reach out to family members and anybody else identified as potentially needing support and offer support and it can come in many forms,” Roberts said.
Some of the ways the team will support families include:
– helping to write an obituary;
– knowing what to say to children; and
– understanding how to manage media, etc.
“If there is somebody in the family that is particularly vulnerable and this incident puts them into a crisis then it’s certainly managing that piece and making sure that they get the support that they need,” Roberts said.
As time passes, Roberts said the support may move to just peer meetings and eventually to group bereavement sessions.
“That would be only individuals who had lost someone to suicide,” Roberts said. “That’s what the research tells us is the best way to go about it.”
The teams will remain a source of support as families and friends go through “firsts” without their loved one – the first Christmas, first birthday, first anniversary etc.
“All of these things come back up again and that’s where they can reach out for the team and have a conversation and the team can kind of reach back to them,” Roberts said.
“It’s really kind of a longer-term support that they can hang on to and we are thinking … a minimum of a year …”
However, Support after Suicide is not just for families and friends. It can offer support for teams and workplaces, and anyone else impacted by suicide.
“If anyone is attached to a suicide and feels that there is an impact … they want to talk about or they need some information or understanding about, then the team is a good place to start,” Roberts said.
Support after Suicide accepts referrals and individuals from the Wellington County community struggling with the impacts of suicide can reach out independently at 1-844-here247.
“The referrals that have come through just in the last couple of months, as we … slowly … get the team up and running, have really come from individuals who have had past issues with death that are a year or two years out and are realizing ‘oh my goodness I really need this,” Roberts said.
“We’ve been able to start some support with individuals in the community like that and I think that says a lot. I think there are a lot of people out there that have been impacted in the last couple of years that are hurting and really need someone to help them sort their way through it.”
What’s special about the Support after Suicide program is it’s a local initiative.
“It’s very important to note that this is our local first responders and our local mental health providers coming together … and now running a made-in-Wellington approach that is not available in any other community across the province, to my knowledge,” Roberts said. “I think that that’s a good news story about first responders and mental health partnering. I think we can be proud of that and we can feel good about that as a community.”
Richardson said Wellington County OPP officers are very invested in the community and know the supports that are needed.
“For our officers to have the knowledge that there is that continued support and resource for the people that they have really formed a relationship with, gives them a sense of closure and a sense of peace to know that there’s going to be continued support after that,” Richardson said.
“Because they truly do care and it’s nice for them to know that that support will continue through a program like this.”
For now the program is only available in Wellington County but there is potential for growth.
“My hope is that we’ll get it up and running, we’ll get some good evaluation and then we will see what we can do in terms of raising some more funds to grow the team and you know, let’s take it regionally,” Roberts said.