Piling Canada

Buddy Up for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention

Alberta project implements training to help workers respond to mental health issues
Written by Angela Altass
January 2024

Buddy Up Skills Training, a new mental health and suicide prevention program, is being implemented by CSV Midstream Solutions Corp. (CSV) in partnership with the Centre for Suicide Prevention (CSP) at the Albright Gas Processing Plant construction project near Grand Prairie, Alta.

Information from Statistics Canada states that there were 4,011 suicides in Canada in 2019, and 2,058 were males. Middle-aged men die by suicide more than anyone else.

“We know that long hours and remote working conditions can result in people feeling isolated from familiar support systems, so we’re taking steps to create a more supportive environment as it pertains to mental health in our industry,” said Daniel Clarke, CSV’s chief executive officer.

The Buddy Up program, mandatory for all site workers involved in the Albright project, trains people to skillfully respond to co-workers struggling with mental health issues or thoughts of suicide.

“Buddy Up training includes a 20-minute webinar to learn how to have a conversation with someone who’s struggling,” said Chad Merchant, construction manager for the Albright project. “The intent is for every contractor to see and feel the value in this training and, hopefully, to embed the program into their companies.”

People who want additional training can also take the half-day in-person connector-level workshop, Suicide Alertness for Everyone (SafeTALK). The third and highest level of training is a two-day
in-person Applied Suicide Intervention Skills (ASIST) workshop.

“SafeTALK trains individuals to recognize warning signs indicating that someone is considering suicide,” said Merchant. “These workshops are conducted in person at the Centre for Suicide Prevention or at our Albright construction site. The supporter-level training, ASIST, is the most extensive. It trains individuals on how to intervene when someone is thinking about suicide.”

Colour-coded hardhat stickers are given to workers when they complete training.

“There are three different colours associated with Buddy Up, Connector and Supporter training, making it easy to identify a person’s level of training,” said Merchant. “Using visible stickers also helps normalize conversations about mental health and suicide.”

The Buddy Up program, modelled after Australia’s MATES in Construction program, is the first of its kind to launch in Canada.

“The training teaches people to engage with their co-workers,” said Merchant. “Workers spend so much time together, and being able to recognize irregularities is easier when you know what to look for. We aren’t trained to fix the problem, but to listen and direct the person who’s struggling to the right individuals and resources.”

One of the purposes of the Buddy Up program is to make talking about mental health and suicide prevention more common among workers, says Merchant. Participants are supplied with materials and contacts to ensure they have the correct information and know who to contact for additional help.

“The beauty of this program is the anonymity that the training provides,” said Merchant. “If two people are seen talking, no one will know if they are talking about something that’s been weighing on them or last night’s hockey game.”

CSV plans to roll out the program throughout the entire company over time.

“We’re definitely learning as we go,” said Merchant. “In terms of implementation at other sites, the training is designed in a way that’s meant to be universally applicable, so it can be replicated at other CSV sites and across other companies or industries.”

Feedback on the program has been positive, says Merchant.

“We have been receiving a lot of feedback on how the program is filling a need in the oil and gas and construction industries, and also how the program has helped people personally,” he said. “From what we’ve heard, this program is already affecting people’s lives in a positive way. Between inflation and recovering from the pandemic, the past few years have added all kinds of additional stressors, so it feels like the program is coming at a time when people really need it.”

Merchant says this kind of support is needed in many industries where mental health stigmas still impact people.

“I am so proud to be a part of this program,” said Merchant. “This is a step in the right direction, but it’s also just the beginning. To shift the negative stigma associated with mental health and suicide, we’ll need to see more ongoing and conscious efforts like this one.”

“The primary objective of the Buddy Up training is to establish a supportive framework that encourages individuals to seek help when needed and pay attention to the people around them.”

Akash Asif, Centre for Suicide Prevention

Akash Asif – Centre for Suicide Prevention

In Canada, men have a suicide rate three times higher than women, states the statistics section of CSP’s Buddy Up website. As a Champion in the Buddy Up program, individuals or organizations can become ambassadors by spreading the word about how suicide in men can be prevented.

“After becoming a Champion in 2020, CSV Midstream Solutions has played an important role in the development and growth of Buddy Up,” said Akash Asif, strategy and operations director with CSP.

“Engaged representation from CSV team members in Buddy Up advisory committees and Champion consultations has provided a fresh perspective and helped CSP to define the strategy and direction of the campaign.”

The Buddy Up webinar outlines common myths and facts about suicide, how to have a conversation with someone you’re worried about, and how to stay connected with other people, says Asif.

“Providing additional, optional training opportunities builds a network of helpers and fosters an environment where it is okay to offer and seek help,” he said. “Allowing people to choose the level of training they take allows them to help at the level most suited to them. Everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention that is based on their comfort level.”

Buddy Up skills training aims to promote authentic conversations by making the subject of suicide prevention friendly and non-threatening for workers, says Asif. To ensure the program’s ongoing effectiveness, all participants will complete evaluations at each training level.

Asif says that work colleagues involved in the Buddy Up program are playing the role of a friend and not that of a counsellor.

“The primary objective of the Buddy Up training is to establish a supportive framework that encourages individuals to seek help when needed and pay attention to the people around them,” he said. “As we collaborate with various organizations, we respect their existing industry standards and practices. Our goal is to promote a culture of openness and support, allowing individuals to reach out to help someone they are worried about. We do not offer crisis services. Instead, we equip people with the knowledge and skills to respond to someone who is considering suicide.”

In collaboration with CSV, CSP is encouraging regular check-ins and the importance of self-care, says Asif. Additional resources and materials about suicide prevention are available at suicideinfo.ca.

“There are already conversations happening with other companies who are interested in bringing Buddy Up training to their workplaces,” said Asif. “Slight adaptations may be required to ensure the effectiveness of the program based on the audience. This program is a great opportunity to advance suicide prevention within the workplace as we aim to normalize conversations about mental health and suicide. It provides colleagues with the social license and language to both offer support and seek help when they are struggling.”

Individuals or organizations interested in bringing the Buddy Up campaign or skills training to their workplaces can visit buddyup.ca or email akash@suicideinfo.ca for further information. Piling Canada

Category: Profile

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