Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council
In 1996, a town hall meeting was called by individuals representing various service agencies and the broad community who were concerned by a number of recent suicides. This eventually led to the formation of the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council (WRSPC) in 1997. In the early 2000s a memorial golf tournament began donating proceeds to the WRSPC. Through their support, and with the guidance from the WRSPC founding members, the WRSPC become incorporated and received charitable status. These proceeds, in addition to a generous donation from a local hospital, led to the Council’s first paid staff being hired. A working committee was then formed and worked together with the staff to create a community strategy which was released in 2006.
Currently, WRSPC has three hard-working staff backed by an executive board, an advisory committee made up of community stakeholders in suicide prevention, and a large volunteer base. The WRSPC draws on voices of service providers, connected services such as health care and first responder organizations, and importantly the voices of lived experience in our community.
Goals and objectives
The WRSPC envisions a community where everyone is engaged in suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention (hope, help and healing). Our mission is to reduce suicide and its impact on individuals, families, and communities by increasing community awareness and engagement. We work to achieve this mission through four strategic directions:
- Building a Sense of Community: We create opportunities for a sense of community and connection through community suicide prevention and life promotion awareness, and through community engagement events that create opportunities for sense of belonging and connectedness (specifically for those impacted by suicide).
- Engaging Populations of Priority: We implement targeted initiatives that equip populations with potentially higher risk for suicide and those around them with training, awareness, and specialized supports.
- Advancing Organizational Capacity: We achieve a standard of excellence through sustainable, effective, and meaningful work. We work to maximize our impact on the community by ensuring an effective structure, evaluating our impact, embracing equity and inclusion, and engaging in ongoing assessment of community needs.
- Growing Provincial and National Reach: We collaborate with and strengthen provincial and national efforts, to ensure that the knowledge and expertise we hold in a local context can be utilized to support suicide prevention efforts more broadly.
WRSPC is involved in many activities throughout the community – often as a driving force connecting and mobilizing various community organizations and stakeholders towards collaborative action. A sample of the many activities we may engage in include (but are not limited to):
- Providing community organizations and community members, such as university students, with funding to access LivingWorks gatekeeper trainings (START, SafeTALK, ASIST, and Suicide2Hope).
- Designing and delivering awareness presentations to community organizations and workplaces.
- Hosting professional development workshops for clinicians to increase understanding of the unique considerations of suicide bereavement and suicide grief support.
- Developing and providing various resources, both print and digital, that direct youth and community members to mental health services and crisis supports.
- Developing and providing informational brochures about suicide, suicide prevention, and suicide bereavement such as Understanding Suicide Prevention – A Handbook for Family Members and Caregivers.
- Hosting a variety of community engagement events to foster a sense of community for individuals, particularly those who have been impacted by suicide and/or suicide loss. For example, free community skates promoting positive mental health messaging, or our World Suicide Prevention Day annual event.
- Engaging in research to further suicide prevention efforts, both locally and on a provincial/national scale.
Advantages and challenges
- Community-rooted – As an organization originally formed as a grass roots collaborative, a strength of ours is continuing to find rooting within our community while being guided and driven by community interests and community members. We ensure this through a strong governance structure including an advisory committee and a Board of Directors.
- Partnering and collaborating – We partner and collaborate with many community agencies and stakeholders, and foster connections between these partners to prevent work being done in silos.
- Permanent staffing and growth over time – When WRSPC first hired a dedicated staff they found this was a key to early success and to keeping the momentum going. Through continued collaborations and support from various organizations and 3rd party fundraisers the WRSPC now employees three full-time staff dedicated to the work of suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. WRSPC also receives support from a local organization that provides office space and operational support such as IT and HR services.
- Community Touchstone – The longstanding history of WRSPC working in our community, and being an agency fully focused on suicide prevention, intervention, postvention and life promotion, has led to a great amount of experience and knowledge held by our council members and staff. We continue to foster the growth and expansion of our knowledge by seeking new information and staying up to date on practices, evidence, and perspectives which we then share within our community.
- Finding ways to measure success and impact – While we have been working in the community for many years and intuitively have a sense of what is working and what does not, we are now intentionally exploring and formalizing processes for measuring success and impact. Obtaining indicators and data on our implementation and outcomes will assist in our ability to continue applying for funding, expand the current scope of our work, and formalize our informal community knowledge to then be translated and mobilized by other communities.
- Outgrowing previous processes – As our organization has continued to grow (in size, annual budget, and in visibility) we have come across areas where our current model is no longer sufficient. As a result, we have worked to develop new policies and procedures; many the result of encountering unanticipated instances.
- Collaboration is key to success. Find ways to bring together stakeholders across your community who are doing similar work and/or have similar missions.
- When deciding on a strategy or direction, it is useful to do an environmental scan. What is currently working? Where are the gaps? What does your community need?
- Involve all stakeholders, including the voices of those with lived or living experience as they can help identify where the gaps and opportunities are.
- Ensure your programs, practices, services, or events are evidence-informed whenever possible, and/or include clinical consultation. Even when the work being done is community-based and non-clinical, taking a trauma-informed approach to all activities, following best practices, and involving a clinical consultation will ensure that you are reducing the possibility for unintended harm or trauma triggering.
- Seek partnerships and sponsorships in the community, both within mental health organizations and in less traditional spaces. Finding partnerships that are mutually beneficial and finding ways that caring organizations and individuals can partner to support your work can elevate your potential for change and impact, while maximizing what you can do on a limited budget. Be creative and think outside the box – this can include engaging graphic designers, printing companies and organizations who can support initiatives through in-kind donations or reduced rates.
- Always balance lived experience perspectives with best-practices, a trauma-informed approach, and clinical oversight. Listen to what youth say and what they want. If you are supporting youth-led initiatives, work to help guide and shape their ideas within the principles of the trauma-informed approach. It is important that youth feel empowered with autonomy to make a difference, but also important that they have the tools, education, awareness, and oversight to do so in a way that ensures safety for themselves, for participants, and for the community.
We evaluate our efforts by tracking feedback from our community on our initiatives. We can tell by asking people about how our presentations or programs have changed their knowledge and attitudes whether we were successful in raising awareness and understanding about suicide and its prevention, and whether the tools they have been provided are seen as useful to their role in suicide prevention.