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Turning Challenges into Opportunity

Aura Rose

Reprinted from "Suicide" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (7), p. 33-34

E-learning training modules for suicide prevention

How would you provide training on suicide prevention to staff scattered across a large health region—geographically dispersed from Williams Lake to Fernie— when resources are limited and staff time is tight? For Interior Health Mental Health and Addictions Services, this was the challenge that led to an opportunity.

“We started to think outside the box to develop training solutions,” says Dave Harrhy, leader, Mental Health and Addictions Planning and Development for the Interior Health Authority. “Distance, cost and getting the right people together were some of the issues that we were grappling with. We also wondered whether a classroom situation was really ideal for the training we wanted to do.”

Working together with Dr. Jennifer White, an assistant professor at the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria, and Natalee Popadiuk, coordinator of the SAFER Counselling Service of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, Interior Health developed an elearning module that offers practitioners the opportunity to access high-quality, practical, evidence-based information at their own desk.

“I liked the idea that the training was being offered to a wide variety of practitioners on a voluntary basis in a flexible delivery format,” says Dr. White. “I saw it as a great opportunity for practitioners to educate themselves more fully at their own speed. Hopefully, the material they get exposed to through the modules will lead to broader discussions with their colleagues.”

“We chose suicide prevention as our first e-learning course for many reasons,” adds Roger Wheeler, project manager of Interior Health Performance Management. “We know that a wide range of our employees across Interior Health may come in contact with individuals at risk of suicide. This includes not only mental health and addictions staff, but also physicians working in a hospital emergency ward, public health nurses helping clients in a health unit, street nurses assisting the homeless, or home and community care nurses visiting clients in their home. So we designed the modules with the idea that a wide variety of health care professionals could use them.”

And, notes Dr. White, “Suicide risk assessment is a cross-cutting issue that many health practitioners need to have basic training in. It is one of the most stressful and anxiety-provoking issues for many professionals to deal with. Offering this training may serve to alleviate some of the fears and concerns that practitioners have about doing this kind of work.”

There are six modules in the Suicide Prevention program; each one takes between 15 and 30 minutes to complete. Topics include general information about suicide, how to assess risk, establishing rapport and understanding with the client, determining possible treatment methods, mobilizing other resources and choosing which treatment is best for the client. One module also deals with unique challenges clinicians face, such as practising in a rural or remote area.

The first e-learning module was launched in June and, to date, the feedback has been very positive. “At first, I was concerned about the length of time the training might take,” says Ingrid Storch, a mental health clinician for Elderly Services in Cranbrook. “Once I got into it, I really enjoyed it. I appreciated that I could complete one module in about 15 minutes; so, could easily fit it into my day. Since I often work in the intake area, I feel I need to understand more about suicide. One thing I learned was that some of the people I work with, those over 85 years of age, are actually at the highest risk for suicide.

Grant Heindl, team leader for the Adult Short Term Assessment and Treatment Team in Kelowna adds, “I’ve found the modules to be both relevant and informative. I wanted to try it out to see if it was a good use of time for my staff. We routinely see clients at risk of suicide. I particularly liked the self-reflective exercises and the information on transference. This type of training will certainly help Interior Health ensure that all clinicians are feel- ing more competent and more capable in delivering roughly the same interven- tions with this population.”

This type of feedback is exactly what Dr. White envisioned. “In developing this course, my hope was that practitioners will become more reflective about their own practices in suicide risk assessment and increase their confidence in working with individuals who may be contemplating suicide.

If the first learning module proves successful, the plan is to develop a series of e-learning modules to support the development of core competencies for Mental Health and Addictions staff. Roger Wheeler adds, “a number of decision-makers from other portfolios within Interior Health have inquired about the development of this educational approach.”

About the Author

Aura Rose is a communications consultant working with Interior Health Mental Health and Addictions Services

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