St. Clair offers students, staff suicide prevention training
The Windsor Star – Published Nov 26/21
Jenny-Lee Almeida, manager of student mental health at St. Clair College, is pictured at the South Windsor campus on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021.PHOTO BY DAX MELMER /Windsor StarLyndi-Colleen Morgan lost two classmates to suicide during her time as a student at St. Clair College.Now as a student residence manager for the college, she was quick to sign up for two suicide prevention programs
offered on campus for the first time.“I lost two classmates and we didn’t even know they were struggling,” Morgan said. “We had no idea. This training gives you some key indicators to look for. I’ve already used some of the tools here inside the residence and outside of the residence.”
In anticipation of the added stress and anxiety building for students, staff and faculty as they return to campus while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten everyone’s health and wellbeing, the college beefed up its mental health services before the fall semester began.
Jenny-Lee Almeida was seconded from the Canadian Mental Health Association to serve as the college’s manager of student mental health and wellness, and another CMHA counsellor was also brought on board.
The suicide prevention programs Almeida oversees are offered at both the Windsor and Chatham campuses.Almost 70 members of the campus community signed up for a three-hour seminar known as safeTALK. The participants learned about the stigma and barriers that hold people back from talking about suicide and they learned how to spot someone struggling and how to ask questions. “For me, I’ve got my friends and my mom,” Almeida said. “I thought, ‘why don’t we train students because they talk to each other.’ We wanted to focus on adding supports during a time where a lot of students are here at the college and having a connection is so important.”
There were 30 people who took the more in-depth, two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) where they learned the critical skills necessary to offer medical care.
Almeida said students in programs such as Police Foundations, Child and Youth Worker, Personal Support Worker and Nursing took the course as well as members of the college’s security and residence staff.
It’s the same evidence-based, standardized training offered to first responders and armed forces personnel, and is often mandated by various agencies and institutions.“I’ve never trained individual general members of the public before until St. Clair hosted and offered it for themselves,” Almeida said.No alarm bells were going off but we could see the stress level of students and staff was rising.
She describes the two-day program as suicide first aid and similar to CPR training for a moment of crisis.
“If we have a mental health crisis, now we have 30 people on this campus someone can bring a student to for help and we are all speaking the same language for that student.”
Director of Student Services Art Barron said the college wanted to be proactive rather than reactive to surging needs.
“No alarm bells were going off but we could see the stress level of students and staff was rising,” Barron said. “We decided to be proactive and use some of our provincial funding for COVID relief and invest it in training. The nice thing is this kind of training gives an ordinary person who cares about other people, it gives them the tools to have that conversation and check in on others.”Ryan Peebles first took the ASIST training after finishing school 20 years ago. As the general manager of the college’s Student Representative Council, he was eager to refresh his skill set.
“We work heavily with our student population and the SRC is in the front of students’ minds all the time. When a student comes into the offices you never know if they’re having a great day or a terrible day. You never know who you’re going to connect with. They could be having a terrible day and you just don’t see it.”
He said the training helps you stay true and calm, and ask the right questions.
“Sometimes, they just need someone to talk to. We’re trying really hard to make sure students are well taken care of.”The college is in the process of developing a long-term mental health strategy. In just a few weeks, it will release a mental health survey in order to assess the needs of the college community. “We want to know ‘what are we missing?’ ” Pebbles said. “We can only fix what we know.”