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SafeTALK: Suicide Alertness for Everyone


Emily Deibert

Offered as a four-hour training session for all students currently studying at the University of Toronto, the goal of SafeTALK is to ensure that people with thoughts of suicide are connected to helpers who are prepared to provide first-aid interventions, and to create a suicide safer community on campus. After attending the session late last year, I had the chance to sit down with the Health Promotions Programs Team at UofT and talk to them about the SafeTALK program and its purpose within the UofT community.

Could you explain what SafeTALK is and how the program was developed?

In 1983, Richard Ramsay, Bryan Tanney, Roger Tierney, and Bill Lang from Calgary came together to develop what we now know to be the SafeTALK suicide alertness program. Hailing from a diversity of backgrounds, including social work, psychiatry, and counselling, they set out to empower all persons to help save lives from suicide. They identified the lack of effective skills among both professionals and the general public and wanted to address these issues by launching SafeTALK in 2006. This groundbreaking program provided the critical need for suicide intervention skills in many workplaces and communities. Since its conception, the SafeTALK program has spread across Canada and made its way to the USA, Australia, and beyond. The four have went on to develop the precursor to the current LivingWorks Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) program as well as create a Train-the-Trainer model to disseminate both of these trainings more broadly. SafeTALK has been offered on the University of Toronto St. George campus for more than 10 years.

Who is SafeTALK training for? Who would you recommend take this training?

SafeTALK training is for anyone 15 years or older, regardless of prior experience or training. SafeTALK emphasizes the importance of recognizing the signs of suicide, communicating with the person at risk, and connecting the person at risk to resources and support. As such, we recommend that all UofT community members attend this training.

What is the scope of the SafeTALK program?

SafeTALK enables participants to become suicide-alert helpers by teaching participants how to move beyond the common tendencies of missing, dismissing, or avoiding suicide. Participants are trained on how to identify when a person is having thoughts of suicide and how to apply the TALK steps. The steps include Tell, Ask, Listen, and KeepSafe, with the goal of connecting a person with thoughts of suicide to a responder trained in suicide first aid.

These caregivers can include community health professionals, emergency and/or crisis intervenors and other helping professionals.

Why is it important to provide access to suicide awareness training on campus? Along the same lines, how can we continue to foster open discussions about suicide and suicide awareness within the university?

Suicide awareness training on campus is a part of our team’s efforts to develop mental health literacy in all UofT community members. Our goal is to create supportive and inclusive conditions that reduce stigma and enable students to flourish.

Since the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year, Health & Wellness has offered six centralized sessions to students at no cost. They have also partnered with the Center for Learning, Leadership and Culture (LLC) to offer staff SafeTALK sessions as well. Several central SafeTALK sessions are planned during the upcoming Winter semester. These sessions are in addition to the ones that we offer to various departments and groups on a by-request basis. So far this academic year, Health & Wellness has facilitated the training of over 200 SafeTALK participants on the St. George Campus.

The UofT St. George campus can continue to foster discussions on thoughts of suicide and suicide awareness by having open and non-judgmental conversations with one another about mental health and suicide. Additionally, by coordinating SafeTALK trainings across campus, specifically when requested by staff, faculty and student leadership, we can help to build our campus’s capacity to support those of us who live with thoughts of suicide.

What is the role of Health & Wellness in organizing SafeTALK, and what other similar initiatives (if any) are offered through Health & Wellness that might be of interest to those who have completed SafeTALK?

Health & Wellness acts as a hub for the planning and hosting of SafeTALK sessions on the University of Toronto St. George campus. Members of our office coordinate the SafeTALK program and facilitate the majority of the trainings that take place on our campus.

Other initiatives that are offered through Health & Wellness that might be of interest to those who have completed SafeTALK include IAR Online Training and ASIST.

IAR Online Training provides community members with the skills and information needed to support people experiencing different types of challenges that impact their mental health. Participants learn how to identify when someone is experiencing a mental health challenge, engage in a helping conversation, and encourage help-seeking by making more effective referrals. The online training takes about 30 minutes to complete and can be accessed at

Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) is a two-day, in-person workshop that features powerful audiovisuals, discussions and simulations to aid in learning how to prevent suicide by recognizing signs, providing skilled intervention, and developing a safety plan to keep someone safe. ASIST has historically been offered to students, staff and faculty who work in helping professions. Typically, these sessions have been led by facilitators external to the University of Toronto. For the 2019-2020 academic year, Health and Wellness is excited to begin offering central ASIST sessions to staff, faculty and students. The first central ASIST session will be announced at the beginning of the Winter 2020 term.

What would the next steps be for someone who has completed SafeTALK and is looking to learn more and become trained on mental health first aid and intervention?

For someone who has completed SafeTALK and is looking for additional trainings, we would suggest IAR Online Training and ASIST which are both offered through Health & Wellness. Additionally, LivingWorks offers a training called Suicide to Hope. Suicide to Hope is a one-day workshop designed for clinicians and caregivers with the goal of developing the skills to apply a recovery and growth approach with persons previously at risk of, and currently safe from suicide.

Could you briefly explain your role at UofT?

As a part of the interdisciplinary team at Health & Wellness, the Health Promotion Programs team develops and delivers health promotion education and training to students, staff and faculty on the St. George campus. Our aim is to build community and institutional capacity to enhance and promote student well-being.

To find out more information or to register for SafeTALK training, click here.

Edited by Rahul Rana & Jeffrey Lynham

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