Speaking out about Suicide Prevention at Coast Mental Health

For Mental Illness Awareness Week, Coast Mental Health (CMH) is championing the World Health Organization’s Mental Health campaign on suicide prevention.

 In 2012, a Coast Mental Health suicide awareness and prevention committee was formed. The committee was trained by a representative from SAFER (Suicide Awareness Follow Up Education & Research), who facilitated a train the trainer session. The committee went ahead to create vital suicide prevention resources and training materials.

Part of that committee was Justin Hachlaf, now Program Manager of CMH Dunbar Apartments. Justin took that training he received and now trains other staff, sharing the important value of suicide prevention. “Since so many of the folks whom we work with every day have a proportionately higher risk level of suicide, I think that it’s critical to treat every encounter as a legitimate risk. Following up on any risk assessment where there is a perceived risk is equally important.”

Staff and Clients at the Coast Mental Health Resource Centre

In addition to the protocols and procedures taught to staff in regards to assessments and safety plans, training at Cost Mental Health dispels myths about suicide, brought on by stigma in society. Some of these myths include:


Justin imparts his wisdom when it comes to talking openly about suicide, “When working with someone who is at risk for suicide, it’s imperative to contain our own anxieties and feelings of social awkwardness and to address the risk as directly and bluntly as possible in that moment.”

Under the Coast Mental Health logo sits three words: Compassion, Courage, and Recovery. The work done by mental health and healthcare organizations in Canada requires Compassion. To speak openly, and intervene to save a life takes Courage. When it comes to Recovery, this looks different for everyone, but at Coast Mental Health, having an awareness of triggers which may elevate risk, being aware of resources and coping strategies, and being able to identify early warning signs can help our clients on their own journey towards suicide prevention.

Justin Hachlaf, Program Manager with a Coast Mental Health Client

Beata Zaleska, Director of Cottage and Transitional Housing Program expressed the importance of suicide prevention at Coast Mental Health for not only clients, but for the wellbeing of staff and families, “The subject of suicide is always painful because it is inevitably related to losses that almost always evolve into personally experienced loss of the most precious thing – a human life.”

Beata shared that CMH staff are trained on suicide prevention to increase their awareness of the prevalence and risks of suicide, and the ability to recognize signs that distressed clients display when they are at risk of self-harm.

“We aim to engage clients in a dialogue about meaning of life, values, tolerance of distress, resiliency, and practical coping skills to be utilized in times of emotional crisis,” says Beata.

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