Centre for Suicide Prevention providing materials, training to Alberta pharmacies

Knowledge is key: Akash Asif, director of external relations for the Center for Suicide Prevention (CSP), in his Calgary office on Wednesday, March 16, 2022. The CSP is a non-profit branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association that prioritizes education. (Photo by Pat Lemoine/The Press)

The Centre for Suicide Prevention (CSP), a Calgary based organization with a focus in education, is now providing materials and START training to pharmacies in Alberta that request it.

According to the centre, pharmacists and their staff have the potential to play a crucial role in recognizing customers as suicidal, as well as how to approach them and how to assist them.

Akash Asif, the director of external relations for the CSP, spoke about how one of these interactions could look like.

“[It could be] someone is standing in front of the aisle and looking at a bottle of Tylenol, or other drugs there, and they don’t look like themselves — they look a little bit different or there’s some nervousness,” said Asif.

“[We want to] prepare people and equip them with the understanding of skills to be able to go and see and talk to them, let them know that [they’re] there for them.”

One of the CSP’s tools in achieving this goal is START training, an online training course provided by LivingWorks.

The course can be completed in less than two hours and focuses on recognizing when someone is thinking about suicide and connecting them to help and support.

“The first thing is understanding that anyone can be going through suicidal thoughts, or that anyone can consider suicide,” said Asif.

“It’s [about] recognizing the warning signs and mutations; knowing and paying attention to the people around you and understanding that there’s something different about them.”

Asif said these signs can present themselves in a variety of different manners, such as sporadic swings in mood or behaviour.

“START is really around paying attention, having [the] conversation, and then connecting that individual to the proper resources.”

Tasha Porttin, pharmacist and store manager of the Jasper Mettra Pharmacy, is one of the first participants of the CSP initiative.

Porttin says she first heard of the START training through the CSP and that most of her staff have completed the training.

“It’s great for people that aren’t necessarily healthcare workers . . . to have kind of a bit of basis around suicide prevention and knowledge on how to start that conversation with individuals”, said Porttin, “and just how to ask questions that maybe we’re not used to asking or maybe not comfortable with asking.”

Porttin also requested suicide prevention materials from the CSP, which now adorn her pharmacy.

The materials provided include assorted signage, pop-out shelf talkers, and take-away cards.

“The first thing is understanding that anyone can be going through suicidal thoughts, or that anyone can consider suicide.” – Akash Asif

“Some people have expressed that that’s really refreshing to see,” said Porttin, “[and the staff are] really kind of grateful that it is up in the store [because] it just gives people the opportunity to know that this is a safe place.”

“I even had somebody, to be honest they were quite teary eyed, when they were thanking me for putting it up,” said Porttin.

“You could tell that that was a very touching thing for them to see.”

To those experiencing suicidal thoughts, the CSP recommends contacting Calgary’s Distress Centre. The centre has a 24-hour crisis phone line, and also provides counselling to those in need.

About Pat Lemoine 8 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Pat Lemoine worked as a writer for The Press in 2022.