Northern leaders learn suicide prevention online

A new online course offered in the Diocese of Moosonee marks the beginning of customized suicide prevention training for northern Anglicans. Twenty-two volunteers have signed up for River of Life, a course produced by the Centre for Suicide Prevention, a not-for-profit education centre, and administered in partnership with the Anglican Church of Canada’s Suicide Prevention Project.

Irene Otter of Waswanipi, Que., is one of the first Anglicans to take the online River of Life course.
Irene Otter of Waswanipi, Que., is one of the first Anglicans to take the online River of Life course.

“This course is ideal for a diocese where our people are living at such remote distances from each other,” said Bishop Tom Corston of Moosonee. “They don’t have to travel. They don’t have to spend money.”

Bishop Corston said he is pleased that 22 of the 30 training spaces have been filled. The majority of participants are First Nations and many are in the James Bay region, which has high rates of youth suicide. Moosonee clergy shared this opportunity with local leaders who they felt would be interested.

One of these leaders is Irene Otter, 53, of Waswanipi, Que., 600 kilometres north of Ottawa. She serves as an emergency worker in this town of 1,500 and said in the past month there have been several suicide attempts. Recently a 15-year-old girl killed herself while her family was at a pow-wow.

“I wanted to work with suicide prevention, because it seems that [victims are] getting younger and younger,” said Ms. Otter, an Anglican. “I’m glad I found out that there’s this program I can get into.”

In Canada, suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than the general population. Among Inuit youth, suicide rates are 11 times higher than the national average.

Anglican leaders in the church’s 10 northern dioceses-the Council of the North-recognized the severity of this problem. In 2009, the council hired Cynthia Patterson to coordinate a Suicide Prevention Project with funds from the church-wide hymn sing, the Amazing Grace Project. Now with extra funding from All Churches Trust and St. Matthew’s Parish, Ottawa, the council can pilot River of Life in two dioceses-first Moosonee, then in the northern Ontario region of Keewatin.

Launched in September 2010, River of Life is the only online course designed to help prevent Aboriginal youth suicide. In eight modules, participants learn the context of youth suicide in Aboriginal communities, key historical factors, legal responsibilities, and the three levels of suicide prevention: prevention, intervention, and postvention (an intervention after a suicide, often with the bereaved).

Rani Murji, director of education at the Centre for Suicide Prevention, said that the course was developed over three years in collaboration with Aboriginal leaders. The centre works with the Assembly of First Nations, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and other partners.

Ms. Otter likes that she can take the course from her home in Waswanipi. It will take her about 24 hours in total with tests along the way and a certificate when she’s finished.

River of Life is just one element in the Anglican Church of Canada’s Suicide Prevention Program. Cynthia Patterson is working with all dioceses in the Council of the North to develop customized programs for their regions. Currently she is in conversation with the Diocese of the Arctic and she is supporting other leaders in developing Indigenous Christian resources on suicide.

For now, these 22 community leaders, working at their home computers in northern Ontario and Quebec, represent a practical start. Ms. Otter is looking forward to making an impact in Waswanipi.

“We want to show the young people that there’s something better in their lives than taking it,” said Ms. Otter. “We’re here to support them.”

For more information about the Suicide Prevention Project, email Cynthia Patterson, project coordinator. For more information about donating to the project, email Paul Clur, research consultant with the Resources for Mission Department, or call him at (416) 924-9199, ext. 293.

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