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From The Record

Renison University College’s social work school wants to add suicide prevention training to its curriculum after a successful intensive workshop for its students.

“Our training doesn’t have anything as comprehensive,” said Susan Cadell, director of Renison’s school of social work.

The college, affiliated with the University of Waterloo, recently hosted a two-day workshop for all 60 students enrolled full-time in the bachelor of social work program. The workshop was financed by the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council through donations.

Suicide prevention training is not currently required for social workers in Canada, but both Renison and the council would like to see it added to the curriculum to ensure people in distress get the help they need.

Tana Nash, the council’s executive director, wants social workers to be comfortable and confident helping people who are struggling with thoughts of suicide.

“Many of them will go on to be working with individuals … and inevitably this is going to come up and if you don’t have the skill level, how can you possibly help someone,” Nash said.

The students learned how to identify high-risk people having thoughts of suicide and had a chance to practice intervention skills through role-playing.

“Sometimes, the awareness doesn’t come with the knowledge and skills to respond to it,” Cadell said.

She said the school includes suicide prevention in various courses, but not in such an intensive way as the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshop, which is internationally recognized and accredited.

How much social work students learn depends on individual professors and their training. Cadell said she knew how to identify those at risk, but would have to contact police or social services for those in immediate danger.

“Just knowing to refer it on, rather than knowing how to deal with it myself.”

Cadell said student feedback was positive and now she’s hoping to find the budget to include the training for future classes.

She said the benefits of being better prepared to deal with people who are suicidal go beyond even social work.

“We can all benefit as professionals, but also as a society with this training,” Cadell said.

Nash would like to see more professions include suicide prevention training.

She wasn’t surprised it wasn’t part of the schooling for social work students, since it’s not part of the training for many other professionals such as doctors and nurses, who regularly deal with people in distress.

“There’s a whole list of folks,” Nash said.

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