USask suicide prevention strategy is a life saver

The University of Saskatchewan (USask) has launched a suicide prevention strategy to help students in the province who are experiencing thoughts of suicide, those wanting to support someone experiencing thoughts of suicide, and those impacted by a suicide loss.

The strategy focuses on supporting students in post-secondary education in the province and includes a toolkit and awareness campaign that were developed in a way that other Saskatchewan post-secondary institutions can use and repurpose to fit their needs.

“We have a shared responsibility for fostering a campus culture where inclusion, compassion and positive mental health are prioritized and promoted,” said Jay Wilson, interim vice-provost of Teaching, Learning, and Student Experience at USask. “Suicide in the post-secondary student population is a clear global, national, and regional issue. Student deaths by suicide have touched our communities, and they have touched our campus. The components of the suicide prevention strategy will be a lifesaving tool.”

The National College Health Assessment completed in 2019 found that approximately 16 percent of students across Canadian institutions seriously considered suicide. In a 2021 Canadian Campus Wellbeing Survey, 10 per cent of the 3,553 students surveyed in Saskatchewan said they thought about suicide over the last 12 months and of those, 34 per cent made a plan.

Wilson said the suicide prevention awareness campaign consists of a variety of print and digital pieces, including a video that tells a real-life story of a student’s journey from experiencing thoughts of suicide to getting help and working on recovering.

The campaign material includes the short and simple phrases “Are you OK?” and “You are not alone.”

“This campaign is a way for us to connect with students who are having thoughts of suicide,” said Wilson. “‘Are you OK?’ is a simple but such a helpful question we can ask if we’re concerned about someone in our community, and ‘You are not alone’ tells students that there are others who are struggling and that there are people here to help.”

Approximately 4,000 people die by suicide each year in Canada, according to a 2020 Statistics Canada report, and it is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24. The report showed that Canadian suicide rates are approximately 10 per 100,000 people.

In Saskatchewan, the rates of suicide are higher than the national per capita average. Between 2015 and 2019, Saskatchewan Coroners Services reported suicide rates were 15.4 per 100,000 people.

Support for USask’s suicide prevention strategy is one of the action items stemming from the government’s Pillars for Life: The Saskatchewan Suicide Prevention Plan, which was released in May 2020. 

“The tragic loss of a student by suicide is felt by family, classmates, and the entire community,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors and Rural and Remote Health Everett Hindley. “Our government is pleased to support the University of Saskatchewan’s suicide prevention strategy. This year we are investing a record $470 million for mental health and addictions services provincially including suicide prevention efforts.”

Healthy Campus Saskatchewan (HCSK), a community of 22 post-secondary institutions in Saskatchewan who have come together to support student mental health and wellness, will be the driving force in sharing the material with other Saskatchewan institutions.

“This is a perfect example of a community of practice in action,” said Bev Drew, strategic and operational lead for HCSK. “The University of Saskatchewan has the expertise to develop a comprehensive resource to support student mental health, and their willingness to collaborate and share it with the other post-secondary institutions connected to HCSK makes this project very special. This creates a collective impact for students, saves valuable time and money, and develops relationships across institutions.” 

Resources: USask toolkit and video

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