Andrea Poncia, Coordinator
613-729-0577 ext. 1252
Communities included within your network: Ottawa and surrounding area
Number of agencies involved in your network: 55
Sectors involved in the network: Health, mental health, education, child welfare, police, youth justice, media, aboriginal
How did your network start?
The Network started in 2011 to help reduce the high rates of suicide in our community by mobilizing partners at the systemic level. We started with approximately 30 organizations and individuals representing education, health, youth justice, police, child welfare and social services sectors, parents, youth and the media. The Network started following two deaths by suicide that personally impacted two high-profile families in Ottawa. This triggered extensive media coverage and brought greater attention to the issue of youth suicide. It also led to a public outcry that more needed to be done to prevent youth suicide in our community.
The Network builds on the work of the Ottawa Suicide Prevention Coalition that started in 1990. The Coalition develops and disseminates educational resources and coordinates the delivery of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and safeTalk training throughout the city. Their work, which focusses on people across the lifespan, helped to lay the foundation for the Community Suicide Prevention Network in Ottawa. We continue to partner with them as we work to prevent suicide among youth.
Our first initiative was to host a "Call to Action Day" – an Ottawa youth suicide summit. This community event brought concerned citizens and organizations in Ottawa together to identify priorities and discuss how to work together to overcome and prevent suicide among youth. We used feedback from the summit to guide our work and activities.
What are the goals/objectives of your network?
- to increase knowledge and awareness of issues related to suicide
- to work collaboratively to prevent suicide in Ottawa
- to strengthen local activities by emphasizing coordination and better use of existing resources, services and organizational capacity
- to work collaboratively to respond to suicide in an effective and timely manner
- to mobilize the community and build capacity to deal with suicide
What are some of the key activities your network has been involved in?
Since forming in 2010, the Network has worked to build a suicide safer community. In belonging to the Network, individual organizations build a foundation that allows for a highly responsive action plan for their community. Initiatives benefit from the collective knowledge of the group, individual organizations are more informed of best practices, and community perspectives, and events have greater reach to larger networks of people and communities. Activities and actions accomplished by the Community Suicide Prevention Network include:
- developing a three-year action plan and hiring a full-time Coordinator to support the community in taking concrete steps to prevent youth suicide in Ottawa
- consulting families and youth in Ottawa about the needs and issues of people with lived experience
- conducting a survey of Network members to learn about what is being done in suicide prevention, intervention, postvention and research within their sectors to promote greater integration and collaboration
- hosting the first-ever Ottawa summit on youth suicide prevention in February 2012 that brought together service providers in mental health and emergency care for children and youth, parent and community groups, school boards and youth representatives
- producing the Know What to Do guide—a free, bilingual pocket guide with tips on responding to a young person in crisis or having thoughts of suicide
- establishing the Parents’ Lifelines telephone service (led by Parents' Lifelines of Eastern Ontario (PLEO)) which is staffed by family navigators who help to introduce and orient parents to the youth mental health system while also providing consultations for those who don’t know where to turn
- providing a gatekeeper training program which builds on partnerships between the mental health community and schools, while enhancing existing mental health promotion and suicide prevention programs by involving youth leaders to deliver peer programming (the Network received three-year funding for this in 2013)
- developing a logic model and working to evaluate the network’s success
- collaborating with local school boards to implement Sources of Strength, a strength-based comprehensive wellness program that:
- Promotes connectivity, school bonding, peer-adult partnerships and help seeking behaviors
- Focuses on suicide prevention but impacts other issues such as substance abuse and violence
- Uses teams of peer leaders mentored by adult advisors to change peer social norms about help seeking
- Encourages students to individually assess and develop strengths in their life
Through this peer to peer program, adult advisors support peer leaders to facilitate activities targeting a diverse peer group to spread a wide range of messages of hope, help and strength.
As of June 2015, there are eight schools implementing the program in Ottawa. Check out this video to see the team of youth leaders in action, or go to the Sources of Strength website.
What success factors can you identify that are helping your network to achieve your desired outcomes?
One important success factor is the commitment of multiple organizations and individuals, across sectors, who work together to prevent youth suicide. We have many champions for youth mental health: organizational leaders, front-line staff and people with lived experience. Each champion brings different skills, experiences and expertise to our initiatives.
Another success factor is the combined financial investment of several local organizations as well as the provincial government. We have used these funds to hire a coordinator to support the Network. Having one person dedicated to keeping the plan moving forward and who can do the work involved to orchestrate our initiatives has been indispensable to our success.
Do you have any tips for other communities mobilizing around youth suicide prevention, risk management and postvention?
Bring all sectors together and involve people with lived experience.
Have you evaluated the efforts of your group?
The Network has developed a logic model to help guide and focus our energies and work in suicide prevention. Developed through the Research Action Area of the Network, the logic model highlights our overarching goals giving us a focus to strive towards in our work. It presents us with the activities that can help us reach our intended outcomes. Since developing the logic model, we have used it in planning and administering the Wilder Collaborative survey to evaluate how we are doing in terms of collaboration. We have also evaluated the implementation of Sources of Strength through the use of focus groups with teachers and administrators.