Accredited training helps doctors better identify and prevent suicide

“Coming out of medical school, doctors feel inadequately prepared to discuss the sensitive issue of suicide with their patients,” says Dr. Glenn Pearce, one of three family doctors who, along with two suicide experts, have developed online training on suicide prevention for family physicians. 

Yet family physicians are uniquely positioned to identify those at risk of suicide and link them to the resources they desperately need.  Research shows that those who die by suicide frequently had contact with a health care provider in the weeks and months prior to their death. 

Suicide expert and co-developer of the online training module, Yvonne Bergmans, stresses that opening the conversation is crucial and that when someone says they want to end their life, it doesn’t mean they will.  “It is a sign that something is very wrong and/or they are in a great deal of emotional pain for which they may not have the words.  Empathy, compassion, validation and normalization of emotions and the burden or pain the patient is experiencing can go a long way to helping someone keep themselves safer.  If you don’t ask the question, you won’t know,” she explains.

The training equips physicians with the tools they need to better identify and prevent suicide among their patients while recognizing the challenging conditions they face, often run off their feet and seeing very ill patients in tight, 15-minute time slots.  The training covers how to broach the question of suicide with patients, how to create an empathetic doctor-patient relationship where that conversation can take place, how to make a tailored safety plan despite time constraints, using protective factors to support vulnerable patients and identifying risk factors, including in those patients who are not necessarily forthcoming. 

The accredited module, Suicide: Facing the Difficult Topic Together—Empowering Physicians, Instilling Hope in Patients , is available free of charge on the mdBriefCase website.  Sponsored by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and developed in partnership with mdBriefCase and the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, it is available in English only.  An equivalent French module is under development in partnership with the Federation of Medical Women of Canada for accreditation by the Fédération des médecins ominipracticiens du Québec and will be available this fall on the mdBriefCase website.  The family physician module is also being adapted for nurses in partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association. 

“These educational offerings are part of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s larger commitment to share knowledge related to suicide prevention by developing a suite of resources on life promotion and suicide prevention,” says Louise Bradley, President and CEO of the MHCC.