Opening the Session

This section describes how to open the session and prepare participants to engage with the material. It includes:

  • Welcome and territory acknowledgement
  • Goals and objectives
  • Practical information
  • Self-care for participants
  • Group guidelines

These slides are available for use with this section of the presentation. For information about downloading presentation slides, see Introduction.

Note: Text in italics are notes for facilitators and non-italicized text is suggested script for facilitators.

Welcome and Territory Acknowledgement

Welcome participants and open with a territory acknowledgement.

Facilitator Note: Territory Acknowledgement and Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being

A meaningful territory acknowledgement allows us to develop a closer and deeper relationship with not only the land but also the traditional stewards and peoples whose territories we reside, work, live, and prosper in.

Acknowledging the territory within the context of mental health and well-being can open a person’s perspective on traditional ways of knowing and being, stepping out of an organizational structure, and allowing participants to delve into their own perceptions, needs, and abilities.

Territory acknowledgements are designed as the very first step toward reconciliation. What we do with the knowledge of whose traditional lands we are on is the next important step.

Some questions to consider as you acknowledge your territory:

  • What do we do as good guests here?
  • What can I do in my personal and professional roles to contribute to reconciliation?

Should your institution have an approved territory acknowledgement, please use that to open the session; however, consider how to make that institutional statement more personal and specific to you in that moment and in the work you are about to delve into with your participants.

If you’re unsure of your territory, the website is a helpful resource.

Introductions and Check-In

After the welcome and territory acknowledgement, introduce yourself. You could then ask participants to very briefly introduce themselves by sharing their name, where they work, and what they are hoping to get out of the session.


If you’re offering the session online, you could also do an online poll that asks people to choose the type of weather that matches how they are feeling. There are many different ways to have participants check in with themselves and the group, and you should use questions and reflections that are meaningful to you and the group.

Note: It may be helpful to have participants share in advance their phone number and physical location at the time of the training (so crisis resources can be called in if needed). It is also very helpful to have a co-facilitator or assistant available to call someone who suddenly leaves the session.

Goals and Objectives

The overall goal of this session is to help you develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to support someone who is in distress and possibly thinking of suicide.

After participating in the session, you will be able to:

  • Explain myths and misunderstood ideas about suicide.
  • Recognize the different signs indicating that someone is in distress or at risk of suicide.
  • Ask if a person is considering suicide, express support, and refer the person to appropriate resources.
  • Discuss roles and appropriate boundaries for participants who are responding to a student who is considering suicide.

You will leave this session with a clear understanding of your role in responding to someone in distress and have basic tools for approaching and referring a student to campus resources and crisis lines.

This is foundational training. You are not expected to be a counsellor or solve another person’s problems. You can help a person by listening and connecting them with support services. The goal is to keep another person safe.

Practical Information

As you engage with the content in this session, reflect on how it might apply to situations you have experienced yourself or with others.

You are encouraged to:

  • Provide feedback and share your input during the discussions, as this will increase learning opportunities for you and others.
  • Jot down notes during reflection activities.
  • Ask any questions you might have during the session.

If you are giving this session online, remind participants that they can turn off their cameras and move around the room during the session. Ask them to be mindful of using the mute button to reduce noise in the online space. You may also want to encourage participants to use the chat feature to ask questions and make comments.

For online sessions, it can be helpful to either show the slide with the emergency contacts and ask participants to jot them down or share Handout 1: Quick Reference: Responding to Students in Crisis. If any of the participants have a strong emotional response during the session and need to contact a crisis line, they will have the contact information available.

Self-Care When Talking About Suicide

You are invited to do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself throughout the session.

Suicide is a challenging and sensitive topic. Many of us have been affected by suicide in some way. This session may bring up memories of people we knew, loved, and have lost. Everyone will have been touched in some way by the topics that will be discussed in the session. Feel free to pause, take a break, stretch, and ground yourself at any time.

Self-care is not an afterthought. You need to keep the concept of self-care in mind while going through this session. You are not alone, you are surrounded by peers, and we are all here to support each other and share resources. This is meant to be a supportive community.

Take care of yourself in whatever way makes sense, including giving yourself permission to “pass” or to not share, and to take time or to leave the room. Feel free at any time to pause, take a break, stretch, and ground yourself. To feel emotionally touched is expected but can be surprising and unsettling.

You can share at the level you feel comfortable with. If anything comes up in the session that feels too important or difficult to handle on your own, don’t hesitate to reach out to the appropriate services – like the counselling office – to debrief or discuss it further.


To begin, you could have participants do a breathing exercise, such as the box breathing exercise described before the break.

Group Guidelines

It is helpful to set some expectations and boundaries for the discussion. For example:

  • This is a learning environment, not a therapy group.
  • Sometimes a topic like suicide brings things up for people, but what comes up in this room – whether in person or online – stays in the room.
  • It’s expected that you will be non-judgmental of each other and will show extra sensitivity when engaging in discussion during the session. This session is about gaining a little more comfort and confidence in dealing with this topic.

You could ask participants to share ideas for group guidelines at the beginning of the session, or you could share a list of guidelines before the session begins to save time during the session. (See Group Guidelines in “Guidelines and Tips for Facilitation”)

Reflection: Assessing Confidence

Ask participants to take a moment to reflect on how confident they feel about talking to someone who says they are suicidal. Ask them to rate themselves on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being very little confidence and 10 being very confident). Tell them that this information is meant only for them and they will not be asked to share it. Let them know you will take a moment at the end of the session for them to reassess their confidence level.

Take this opportunity to talk about the difference between confidence and comfort levels. The aim of the session is not to make them comfortable, as a conversation about suicide is never a comfortable conversation. The aim of the session is for participants to feel more confident about going into these conversations.

Text Attributions

  • “Territory Acknowledgement and Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being” by Jewell Gillies (CC BY 4.0 License).

Media Attributions


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Starting a Conversation About Suicide: Foundational Training for Students Copyright © 2022 by Dawn Schell; Dagmar Devine; Jewell Gillies; Jenny Guild; Arica Hsu; Hamza Islam; Barbara Johnston; Calla Smith; and Liz Warwick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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