Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council

Network/coalition name:  Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council

Primary contact: Tana Nash

Communities included within your network: Waterloo region

Number of agencies involved in your network: 16

Sectors involved in the network:  Education, health, youth justice, mental health, spirituality

Website address: www.wrspc.ca


How did your network start?

In 1996, a town hall meeting was called by a number of concerned individuals, representing agencies and the community, following a number of suicides.  In 1997, the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council (WRSPC) was started.  In the early 2000s a memorial golf tournament started, and began donating proceeds to the WRSPC.  With their guidance, WRSPC became incorporated and received charitable status.  In addition, with a generous donation from the hospital, a facilitator was hired and a working committee developed to create a community strategy which was released in 2006. 

The WRSPC is made up mainly of mental health organizations who encourage passionate employees dedicated to suicide prevention to attend meetings and provide sub-committee work.  WRSPC also has approximately 45 active volunteers currently supporting their work.  Some come and go as part of their journey.  Some only volunteer once a year, others are more engaged.  WRSPC now has a volunteer appreciation night once a year (planned by a volunteer!) and developed a volunteer handbook. 


Describe the goals/objectives of your network:

The WRSPC believes that every person has the right to be supported in living a healthy, positive life. Our mission is to reduce suicidal behaviour and its impact on individuals, the family and the community. The Council focuses on five key objectives:

  • to increase commitment from the community to participate in a regional suicide prevention strategy
  • to increase public awareness
  • to collaborate with partners to increase prevention efforts
  • to increase the capacity of the community in training and education
  • to influence community changes to programs and implement a coordinated strategy


Describe some of the key activities your network has been involved in?

While keeping a youth focus, the WRSPC has been involved a several key activities:

  • training of all Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Education students in safeTALK after the Dean made a commitment to suicide prevention training for all future teachers (although not mandated in the curriculum)
  • primary care provider training, accredited by the Royal College of Family Physicians, to increase knowledge and education for youth and adolescent patients 
  • developing a wallet-sized youth resource cards for primary care providers, school boards, mobile crisis, the hospital and other community organizations to offer to families and patients
  • providing gatekeeper training, such as training 754 youth in safeTALK through generous funding from local service clubs
  • hosting four free screenings (with 600 attendees) of the documentary Bully in collaboration with Lutherwood to the community with a panel of local organizations providing resources and help following the film
  • hosting a Youth in Crisis conference (with 150 local professionals attending) in partnership with Waterloo Region Police Services and Lutherwood that focused on what each community organization can do when a youth is in crisis
  • developing the My Life Matters t-shirt with youth input (with other 1500 circulated in the region to date) which has made appearances in schools, the House of Commons, and on CTV and Canada AM
  • developing several informational materials:


Have any of your activities involved the development of a protocol? 

  1. Yes, we developed a youth suicide assessment and community referral map.
  2. If so, what type of protocol?
    1. Inter-organizational protocol 
    2. Protocol for risk management


What success factors can you identify that are helping your network to achieve your desired outcomes?

  1. Action – By demonstrating the work we are doing, more funds continue to flow our way through donations and third party work, further fueling WRSPC’s efforts.  
  2. Partnering and collaborating – We partner and collaborate with many community agencies. We all need to work together.
  3. Profiling – We work with the media in a proactive way to address concerns and positive steps being taken, and to promote events.  The additional profiling has secured further funding. 
  4. Dedicated staff person – WRSPC finds that the key to their success has been an identified paid staff person who can keep the momentum going and keep chunking away at the work.  Initially, this position was fourteen hours per week based on funding from a memorial golf tournament.  WRSPC has also partnered with local organizations that provide office space and support for this staff person. 


Has your initiative/network/coalition faced any significant challenges? If so, what are they and what have you done (or what’s being done) to address them?

  • The need to grow larger, but not having the infrastructure to support it.  We did address this two years ago by developing further partnerships. However, we are once again at a point of growing pains and could have an administrative staff member to support the work, but we just don’t have the funds. 
  • Although we have a strategy, it once again needs to be updated to include strategy-specific steps to reduce suicides.  Some of these steps are hard to initiate locally and need support provincially and federally.


Do you have any tips for other communities mobilizing around youth suicide prevention, risk management and postvention?

  • Work together as a community.
  • Do an environmental scan. What is currently working? Where are the gaps? What do you need?
  • Involve youth. What do they say they need?
  • Postvention is key. Resources and services are essential. Services need to increase as suicide prevention efforts are more visible in the community. This can prove to be difficult.


Do you have any tips for other communities mobilizing around youth suicide prevention, risk management and postvention?

  • Work together as a community. Partnerships are key. Be creative and think outside the box. Here are some ideas:
    • Graphic designers who can provide an hourly or reduced rate.
    • Printing companies who can donate banners/signage at events or who can do this at a reduced rate.
    • Organizations who can provide mailing, photocopying or office space and phones at no charge.
    • Service clubs who can provide the space for presentations/events and often have money to give back to the community. 
    • Local businesses can partner through a number of ways, including providing a meeting or storage space, planning fundraisers and providing prizes for silent auctions or raffles.
    • Local movie theatres can donate space for a presentation or an actual film. WRSPC partnered with a local movie theatre to provide four free screenings of the documentary Bully, which was hosted by local radio hosts. Following the film, there was a panel of community experts who provided information on services and answered questions in addition to a listing of community resources placed on every seat. 
    • Faith communities can play a key role in building suicide safer communities.  Provide gatekeeper training and information resources to faith leaders and their faith community. 
    • Victim Services can be first responders to a suicide. 
    • Financial partnerships can help with funding your coalition’s work. Write a list of all organizations you think can help in this regard. With budgets being tight, think how organizations could chip in just a bit of money to reach the total amount you are looking for.
    • Funeral homes can help at many levels, including:
      • Playing a role in breaking down stigma as one of the first points of contact for family members.  
      • Providing guidance to families wanting to speak about suicide in the obituary and/or at the service. 
      • Providing helpful resources to families and those attending the funeral service (with the family’s permission).  Tip: Ask your local funeral home to partner to pay for a grief brochure in return they can have their logo on the brochure.
  • Do an environmental scan – What do you currently have working? Where are the gaps? What do you need? Using the World Health Organization’s Template from the 2014 report is a good place to start. 
  • Involve youth.   What do they say they need?
  • Postvention is key.  Resources and services are essential.  As the profile of suicide prevention and help is increased, ensure that services are also increasing.  This can prove to be difficult. 


Have you evaluated the efforts of your group? 

This continues to be a challenge but we have been evaluating general awareness presentations by conducting pre- and post-surveys for suicide awareness and intervention trainings separate to those required, and have conducted six month follow up surveys to primary care providers following accredited training.  The evaluation process still needs to take it a step further and include actual data on the reduction of attempts and suicides.