Sarnia-Lambton Youth Suicide Prevention Plan

Network/coalition name: Sarnia-Lambton Youth Suicide Prevention Plan

Primary contact:
Teri Thomas-Vanos 


The Sarnia-Lambton Youth Suicide Prevention Committee formed as an offshoot of the Sarnia-Lambton Suicide Prevention Committee 3-4 years ago following several deaths by suicide among youth in the community. Youth advocates rallied and pushed for support in response to these deaths. The availability of grant funding from the Ministry of Children and Youth Services has allowed this youth-specific committee to grow in numbers, collaborative efforts and community impact through the development of the Sarnia-Lambton Youth Suicide Prevention Plan.


The Sarnia-Lambton Youth Suicide Prevention Plan has a number of organizations and service providers that function together as a mental health support network for youth in the community. The following groups worked as collaborative partners for the development and implementation of the Sarnia-Lambton Youth Suicide Prevention Plan:

  • Youth
  • Family Counselling Centre: Distress Line
  • Lambton-Kent District School Board
  • Lambton College
  • Lambton Mental Wellness Centre
  • Sarnia-Lambton Children's Aid Society
  • Sarnia-Lambton Suicide Prevention Committee
  • Sarnia-Lambton Rebound
  • St. Clair Child and Youth Services
  • Lambton Mental Wellness
  • Sarnia Police Youth Bureau
  • St. Clair Catholic School Board
  • Bluewater Health
  • Huron House Boys Home
  • Rain & Shine
  • Aamjiwnaang First Nation
  • A bereaving parent 

Tips on building effective partnerships:

  • Youth are key partners. Youth representation and participation were focal points throughout the 2015 Youth Suicide Prevention Plan. Many youth from local high schools and Lambton College participated as equal partners. The ability to engage youth in all stages of planning and implementation was a priority and an accomplishment that contributed to our overall success.
  • Trusting relationships and shared ownership is important to move our work forward. Because we are a small community, our agency partners have developed trusting relationships as a foundation to creating buy-in and to getting the work done. Every agency is willing to participate and own pieces of the work.
  • Open communication and mutual respect. Meetings characterized by open communication and mutual respect help committee members to consider one another's ideas, attain a shared vision, clarify roles, and carry out the initiatives. 

Creating and implementing the Sarnia Lambton Youth Suicide Prevention Plan

The goals of the Sarnia-Lambton’s Youth Suicide Prevention Plan are to:

  • Promote the idea that mental illness is like any other illness
  • Reduce the stigma and secrets among the community regarding mental illness and suicide
  • Promote services and support for suicide prevention in Sarnia-Lambton
  • Build a safer community through the creation of suicide-prevention networks
  • Strengthen relationships and establish a sense of trust between youth and adults (parents, service providers, teachers) so that the youth will view the adults as allies, with whom they can share their experiences and discuss mental health issues 
  • Create a safe place for youth and adult allies to talk about mental health issues

The plan focuses on four key areas, which covers all levels of prevention (i.e., primary, secondary and tertiary):Billboard

  • A billboard  was developed to promote an understanding that mental illness is common and affects the entire community. It served as a primary prevention tool aiming to reach all youth. Further, it directs youth in crisis to immediate support. The budget allowed for two billboard locations for one year. High traffic Tim Hortons drive-thru locations were chosen; one location in Forest Ontario at 80 King Street East, and the second at Cathcart Boulevard and Colborne Road.
  • ASIST workshops and safeTALK training were chosen as secondary prevention measures to strengthen the number of gatekeepers. Twelve organizations, having front-line workers who interact with youth at-risk, were identified. The executive directors were contacted with information about the role of ASIST as a first-aid measure and to establish a safety plan. The executive directors were then able to invite staff who were new to training, or had trained more than five years ago, to participate in the two day workshop.
  • A Youth and Adult Ally Conference provided opportunities for primary, secondary and tertiary prevention. Workshops promoted mental wellness and strategies for coping with life stressors. These benefited all conference participants. Community booths provided relevant and accurate information about local resources. Youth were informed about ways to participate in community programs and access mental health services. The opportunity for youth and adults to learn alongside one another provided a powerful message of support and strengthened youth and adult relationships. 
  • We Care Packages were provided to Bluewater Health and other health care facilities as a tertiary prevention measure. The packages were assembled for youth arriving at the hospital or health care facility with suicidal thoughts or behaviours. Practical items were included to help address the basic needs and comfort of youth. Pamphlets and contact numbers were included to inform youth about how to access support when they leave the hospital. A caring letter was also provided to explain the intention of the package and allow youth to provide feedback for this initiative. 

Tips on creating and implementing action plan for youth suicide prevention:

  • Begin planning early
  • Engage youth to be equal partners at the planning table. This requires thinking outside the box in order to meet youth where they are at (e.g., time of day, location).
  • Engage and make use of all community partners and supporters around the table. Each partner comes with resources to share and support the planned activities. Don’t be afraid to delegate and allow this support to happen.
  • Remain focused on your goals. You should continuously refer back to your goals/objectives to ensure you’re staying on track and on scope. 
  • Schedule regular meetings with planning partners, especially with youth partners. This allows the time necessary to complete tasks together and to check-in on tasks or activities carried out by the various partners.
  • Build in plans for evaluation from the beginning
  • Open invitation to community partners to build capacity as part of a sustainability plan 

Evaluating activities from the Sarnia Lambton Suicide Prevention Plan

The Sarnia-Lambton Youth Suicide Prevention Committee created an evaluation plan  to measure the success of their various activities. Results for the gatekeeper trainings and the youth-adult ally conference were collected by survey (pre and post), tabled and analyzed. The results have demonstrated that these particular activities were well chosen and successful. The role of the billboard, to increase public awareness and help de-stigmatize mental illness, will not be measured. Time will be required to assess the impact of the We Care Packages on youth who were in distress. Bluewater Health and other health care facilities will provide information about the number of packages that were needed and anecdotal information about how they were received. 

Tips for evaluating community activities:

  • View evaluation as an absolutely necessary process.
  • Move beyond collecting data, and actually use the data. Data provides insight into your activities, which can help you improve and sustain work over time, tailor to the needs of the community and may even help you obtain more funding to support your initiative.

Sustaining the Sarnia Lambton Suicide Prevention Plan

Strategies for sustaining the Sarnia Lambton Suicide Prevention Plan include looking for other funding sources with the support of a grant writer and looking for ways to build activities into long-standing, pre-existing networks such as the Sarnia-Lambton Suicide Prevention Committee. The Sarnia-Lambton Youth Suicide Prevention Committee is already thinking ahead to the future and potential next steps.

Successes of the Sarnia Lambton Suicide Prevention Plan

Our biggest success really comes from engaging and empowering youth to bring their talents forward to contribute to the cause. One youth attended our first Youth and Adult Ally Conference, which was his first exposure to Sarnia-Lambton Rebound. The conference created an environment where he felt valued, engaged and connected to adults in the community. Because of this experience he has since stayed connected with Sarnia-Lambton Rebound as a volunteer and has even got his friends involved. This youth is now a major part of the organization and its activities. 

Challenges of the Sarnia Lambton Suicide Prevention Plan: 

  • Ensuring sustained engagement among youth, especially as youth get older and move on to university.
  • Navigating the dynamics of working with youth can be a challenge. You need to allow time for youth to figure things out for themselves and be successful.
  • Evaluating our activities can be challenge. It’s not always easy to get the data we want or to have all partners recognize the importance of this data.