The Northern Ontario School of Medicine says it is better preparing students to combat suicide with the help of a new curriculum.

At a press conference held Wednesday at its Sudbury and Thunder Bay campuses, NOSM said the training introduced at the school focuses on lowering the high rate of suicide in northern communities.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said he supports the move.

"What's happened in the NAN territory over the last 25, 26, 27 years [is] we've lost close to 500 of our members to suicide,” he said.

Alvin Fiddler

"We've lost close to 500 of our members to suicide," says Alvin Fiddler, Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief. (Josh Lynn/CBC)

“We represent 49 communities, and the average size of a community is 400-500 people. So it's like losing an entire community to suicide."

Fiddler hopes students receiving the training stay in the north and go on to work in NAN communities.

First-year students at NOSM now undergo safeTALK training, a three-hour program created by LivingWorks that trains participants to identify persons with thoughts of suicide and to connect them with suicide first aid resources.

NOSM is also developing and piloting other tools designed to help medical students deal with suicide in their future practice as physicians.

Breaking 'the myth'

“Integrating safeTALK training into our MD curriculum supports students and future health professionals of northern Ontario in responding to the increased prevalence of suicide and self-inflicted injuries in the north,” said Dr. David Marsh, interim associate dean, Undergraduate Medical Education, in a press release issued Wednesday.

Community support workers, including youth, are currently receiving and facilitating safeTALK workshops in about half of Nishnawbe Aski Nation’s 49 member communities.

Brian Ross

"We have particularly hight rates of suicide and self harm in northern Ontario, and this medical schools is all about making northern Ontarian healthier," says Dr. Brian Ross, a professor with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. (Josh Lynn/CBC)

Scott Chisholm, founder of the Collateral Damage Project — whose mission it is to help those left behind after a loved one commits suicide — said the new curriculum will allow new doctors to “bring this into their family practices, and bring it into their commitments and the people they 're working with."

Chisholm said the safeTALK “breaks the myth that talking about suicide will cause it. Talking about suicide won't cause it. It won't put the thought in somebody's mind."

Fiddler said it’s important that all professionals, including police officers and nurses are “aware of these issues and are trained and are prepared to assist those that may be thinking about harming themselves."

scott chisholm

"My part in this is sharing my story. I lost my father to suicide, and the project I'm working on is about sharing stories, and sharing stories for the purpose of creating change," says Scott Chisholm, Founder Collateral Damage Project quotes. He was in Thunder Bay today to help announce new curriculum for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. (Josh Lynn/CBC)

NOSM professor Dr. Brian Ross noted that northern Ontario has a particularly high rate of suicide and self harm.

“This medical school is all about making northern Ontarian healthier,” he said.

"We realized we should really be doing more and, with Scott's help and with some ideas he gave us and some of the things I thought about, we developed some new curriculum for the medical program."

Ross said it is hoped that “one patient at a time, one doctor at a time, we [can] start to get more treatment for people so we can reduce these very high rates of suicide."