Professor reviews work of suicide consellors

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By Siri Agrell

Many people who contemplate suicide reach out to someone for help, and Ryerson’s Carol Stuart wants to make sure the people they turn to are properly trained.

The child and youth care professor who came to Ryerson last year, helped spearhead Many Helping Hearts, a collaborative research project with the NEED Crisis Line in Victoria B.C.

Stuart’s project evaluated the way NEED trained 85 of its high school employees in suicide assessment and counseling.

Three months after the students were trained, Stuart found their counseling skills and their understanding of suicide had improved dramatically.

“The kids actually retrained this information,” said Stuart, who presented her findings last week to the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention in Vancouver.

Stuart’s analysis showed after being trained, the teen counselors were better at talking about suicidal intentions and were more likely to seek the help of parents, teachers and other support groups.

“The next step is to demonstrate, that these techniques work,” said Stuart, who was given $3,750 from Ryerson and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for the Victoria project.  “We need to get the information out there.”

Stuart hopes to set up a second evaluation program in Toronto, where according to a 1999 report, almost 10 per cent of teenage death were suicides.  She’s already approached the Ontario Suicide Prevention Network about a potential program.

Mark Smith, a former child and youth care student, chose to work on the project as Stuart’s research assistant instead of completing a final-year thesis.

Smith, who graduated from Ryerson last year, now works with the crisis support team at Youthdale, a children’s mental health centre in Toronto.

He says he gained more than just research experience from working with the project.

“Dr. Stuart took the time to be a tutor,” he said.  “She showed me the why and how of what we were doing.”

If you know someone who you think is at risk of committing suicide and you want to know what you can do, contact student counseling services at Ryerson, 979-5195, the Toronto Distress Centre at 598-1121 or 486-1456, or Emergency Community Services Information at 397-4636.

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