Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut November 19, 2012 - 4:12 pm

Nunavut slowly develops ASIST suicide prevention training

Low number of trainers creates burden

SAMANTHA DAWSON

Suicide continues to be a major problem in Nunavut, but the Government of Nunavut says it’s made some progress in providing suicide prevention training to Nunavummiut through its Nunavut version of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training or ASIST.

Since 2010, about 700 people have received the ASIST, or Uqaqqatigiiluk, “let’s talk about it,” suicide intervention training, said David Richardson, acting assistant deputy minister for programs and standards in the Department of Health and Social Services.

The suicide intervention-training program, offered in a two-day workshop, is part of Nunavut’s suicide prevention strategy action plan which calls for more Nunavummiut to gain suicide prevention skills.

“They’re not being trained to be counsellors or mental health workers, but it’s for the layman to be able to understand, recognize and be able to talk to people who they believe are considering suicide,” Richardson said.

Twelve people are now working on obtaining their certification as trainers, by participating in three training sessions.

But the number of certified, or registered trainers is low — “only three or four,” Richardson admits.

This means there is “quite a burden on those three or four because then they are the ones who will be delivering a course and the other people coming in,” Richardson said.

The number of certified trainers has dwindled “due to people leaving the area, not being supported by their employer to train the courses, other commitments, so we provided another train the trainer course,” Richardson said.

To remain certified, trainers have to take a refresher course at least once a year — and they’re volunteers.

“That means that they’re working somewhere else and they have to be able to schedule themselves away from work,”  Richardson said.

Two full time employees with the health and social services department, one based in Iqaluit and the other in Cambridge Bay, do co-ordinate the training sessions.

Most recently, a training session was to have taken place held in French in Iqaluit, but it was cancelled due to a lack of participants.

The next workshops are scheduled for Whale Cove, Arctic Bay and Igloolik.

“We don’t just throw these sessions out. We really work with communities to try and pick times when there’s a nucleus of people who want the training and we can do it,” Richardson said.

As for results, no one ever claimed that ASIST is the answer to suicide in Nunavut, said Jack Hicks, who worked on the suicide prevention strategy and action plan, and remains an active master ASIST trainer.

But the workshop does teach practical suicide intervention skills, Hicks said.

“That’s why we call it ‘suicide first aid,’” he said. “ASIST has already saved lives in Nunavut.”

“People leave ASIST workshops having overcome their fear of talking openly about suicide, their fear of asking someone in distress if they are thinking about suicide.

“People gain a sense of mastery over something very scary that previously had mastery over them.” 

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