Shining a light on suicide

October 7, 2017

Last year in Alberta, 460 people took their own lives. There are few people who haven’t been affected by suicide in some way. According to a 10-year study done by the Suicide Prevention Program, the people most at risk to commit suicide are trades workers and students.

This is a problem at a polytechnic school like NAIT with its large trades schools and student population ticking off one and two on the list. Thankfully, there is something being done about it.

“Tough Enough to Talk About It” is a program recently integrated into second-year
trades courses on campus where a special presentation provided by the Suicide Prevention Program is shown. The presentation is centred around awareness for the student, as well as what to watch out for when it comes to friends and family.

Don Boomer, associate dean for the School of Skilled Trades, is passionate about the program. He talks about how the idea to bring the program to NAIT came from a mother of a former welding apprentice who studied at the Souch Campus. Her son took his own life, and she championed the cause to bring it to NAIT. After attending the meeting with the Prevention Centre, Boomer says it was a no-brainer as far as the school was concerned.
They needed to bring awareness to NAIT.

“I attended the meeting and I thought it [Tough Enough to Talk About] was a really, really good program,” said Boomer. “Something that we needed here at NAIT. Some of the stats they presented during the meeting were just staggering.”

Boomer says the attitude regarding mental illness when he worked in the trades over 25 years ago was non-existent.

“It was not spoken about. It was completely swept under the rug … they [tradesmen] didn’t want to talk about it.”

Boomer mentions a young man he worked with right before making the move to NAIT. Boomer and the young apprentice were working together on a Friday, discussing Boomer’s move to NAIT. The young man joked with Boomer, “maybe you will even be my instructor.”

“He didn’t show up for work on Monday, as a matter of fact he never showed up for work
again,” Boomer said.

“I found that most of the people around the site were angry at him but nobody was willing to talk about it.”

It’s this reaction and attitude towards mental health and suicide in the trades that
sparked change. So far, Boomer has seen the attitude change about discussing mental health issues among trades students. The younger generations are more open to talking about mental health issues than Don’s generation, but there is still a negative stigma.

Currently, the Suicide Prevention Program’s “Tough Enough to Talk About It” presentations are integrated into second-year trades students courses. This was done in an effort to reach students effectively since some trades programs don’t require a fourth year and first-year students already have a safety presentation.

Since the program has been brought to NAIT, Boomer has seen an overwhelmingly positive response. Media is also taking notice as CBC and other outlets have contacted him for interviews interested to learn more about the program. Faculty within the school and local unions are also eager to learn more about it.

Boomer’s message to anyone currently dealing with the weight of mental health issues was simple.

“Talk to somebody, get some help … there’s lots of help out there.”

If you are experiencing a crisis, go to the Counselling Office immediately. Outside of counselling office hours, call the Adult Mental Health Crisis Response Team at 780.342.7777. Trained professionals are available to
help you 24/7.

Listen to the full interview with Dean Boomer, Associate Dean for the school of trades at NAIT on the topic of suicide prevention:

– Seth Hennig