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Conference Overview The 41stannual American Association of Suicidology (AAS) conference was held April 16 to 19, 2008 in Boston, Massachusetts. The 6th Annual Crisis Centers Conference was held concurrently with the AAS conference. The theme of both conferences was Advancing Suicidology: Embracing Diversity in Research and Practice. The Crisis Centers Conference offered workshops, networking opportunities, and program sharing sessions for crisis center volunteers, staff, and managers. A facilitated networking time helped representatives from crisis centres across the United States and Canada share good ideas and best practices. Some of the workshop topics included: how to develop a media message; how social networks can be used to recruit volunteers, increase awareness and raise money; and how to deal with “chronic callers.”
What DCO Representative, Vanita Varma, Learned
Vanita Varma, Executive Director of Telecare Distress Centre (TDC) in Brampton attended the conference on behalf of Distress Centres Ontario (DC)) Vanita has been with TDC since 2003 and is currently on the DCO board of directors. She found the conference helpful—especially connecting with staff and volunteers from other distress and crisis centres. She was surprised to learn that many crisis lines in the United States are answered by paid staff or sometimes a combination of paid staff and volunteers. Very few crisis lines were completely staffed by volunteers—which is the case for most lines in Ontario. “There are pluses and minuses to both situations,” says Vanita. With paid staff you can be assured that most of the time they are going to show up for their shift, sometimes volunteers cancel at the last minute. She noted that there seems to be less volunteerism in the US. Canadians can be proud of the amount of volunteer time they donate to causes like distress centres.
Vanita also noticed that few of the American crisis centre staff complained about lack of funding. With a larger population, they also have a larger funding base for distress lines. She also remarked that many crisis centres worked closely with other services in a particular region like healthcare, social services, and police. She felt centres in Ontario would benefit from similar cooperation with complementary service providers in their region.
A New Perspective on Frequent CallersIt was reassuring for Vanita to discover that many distress and crisis centres faced common challenges like frequent callers and a diminishing volunteer base. Vanita, who has 15 years of counselling experience with children, youth and adults in Singapore and Canada, got a new perspective on frequent callers. She knows that volunteers and staff can be at times “unmotivated” when providing listening support to people who call again and again. But through the conference she was reminded that frequent callers are “people who wouldn’t have anyone if they did not call you. Who knows if they wouldn’t be suicidal tomorrow,” she says. Conference participants were encouraged to view frequent callers as a “fan club” of sorts. “It is important to continue to be compassionate, kind and caring with this group of the callers who still need us, as much as any new caller” says Vanita.
Distress Centres across Ontario are fortunate to have so many gifted volunteers providing direct support to people in need in our communities via their telephone support work as well as donating time organizing events, doing maintenance around our buildings, providing leadership on our boards of directors and so much more.
It was difficult to choose just several recipients from among the 16 nominees for the 2008 Spirit of Volunteerism Award given in memory of Rev. Chad Varah. Distress line volunteers across Ontario nominated for the award have shown a commitment to listening with empathy and to the ideals of the distress line movement as they have supported Ontarians in turmoil.
A special issue of the E News + Views will be issued this week to honour all the nominees. The wonderful and caring individuals you will learn more about include:
Visioning Day - Action Priorities
Case Management We work together to identify common standards and Best Practices that would be required to be an accredited DC...
Action: Model-building options for Accreditation are reviewed in the fall / Centres' leadership decides to proceed with accreditation development process
Technology Integration We work together on Technology Infrastructure Systems Integration...
Action: DCO commissions a feasibility study of the telephone capabilities of the existing systems and possiblities
Collaboration & Networking We work together to find ways to enhance collaboration in education and service delivery.
Action: Seek a Trillium grant to support training of staff and volunteers and improve networking amongst DCs
Single Contact Number We work together to find a way to set up a single contact number for people throughout the province to use...
Action: Develop a plan and timetable to establish a provincial 1-800 number for suicide prevention with seamless links to special distress lines
Awareness-building We work together to build awareness of DCs and our services through province-wide marketing initiatives and promotions...
Action: All DCs will celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Week with localized events
Arnold Devlin, chairman of the Ontario Suicide Prevention Network (OSPN) and Program Administrative Manager of the Regional Children's Psychiatric Centre of Northeast Mental Health Centre (Sudbury Campus) passed away suddenly at his home in Sudbury on April 25th, 2008.
Late last year, Arnold spoke about the need to bring social and policy change to the area of suicide prevention in Ontario in the DCO e News + Views. A fervent supporter for additional services and a coordinated suicide prevention strategy, Devlin believed "People need to know that it's ok to talk about suicide, and that there is help available."
Devlin was also a cycling enthusiast and contributor to the http://www.6dayracing.ca/ website. He will be sadly missed.
Theme and Session Information
Accreditation Committee Update
DCO STRATEGIC PLANNING
PARTNERSHIP TOOLKIT -
SPECIAL THANKS TO ALL THE VOLUNTEERS IN THE DCO NETWORK - YOU ARE VERY SPECIAL