Opening the Session

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

  • Welcome and territory acknowledgement
  • Explaining goals and objectives
  • Acknowledgement that suicide is a very difficult topic to discuss and can trigger many emotions in participants
  • 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.


Welcome participants and open with a territory acknowledgement. If you’re unsure of your territory, the website is a helpful resource.

slide: territory acknowledgement

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 to 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, we invite you to 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.

Opening Check In

After the welcome, introduce yourself. You could ask participants to very briefly introduce themselves, or you may want to start the session with a short participant check-in as a way to invite people into a learning space. You could ask participants to share 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 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 we invite you to use questions and reflections that are meaningful to you and the group.

Goals and Objectives

Review the overall goal of this presentation: to help faculty and staff develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to support students who are in distress and possibly thinking of suicide.

After participating in the presentation, participants will be able to:

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

Participants will leave this session with a clear understanding of their role in responding to students in distress and have basic tools for approaching and referring students to campus resources and crisis lines.

Practical Information

Suggest that as people engage with the presentation, they reflect and think about how the information might apply to situations they have already had with students, or situations that they can imagine coming up in their role as faculty or staff.

Encourage participants to provide feedback and share their input during the discussions as this helps improve the learning opportunities. Also encourage people to jot down notes during reflection activities. Encourage them to ask questions if they have any questions during the session.

Let everyone know that after the presentation, they will have access to printable (PDF) handouts. If possible, have a handout with contact information of your institution’s support services for students.

If you are giving this session online, remind online 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.

Self-Care When Talking About Suicide

To create a safe space, spend some time talking about how the topic of suicide can be sensitive for all of us and can bring up memories of people we know, love, and have lost. Many of us have been affected by suicide in some way.

Tell participants that self-care is not an afterthought, and they should keep the concept of self-care in mind while going through this session. Remind them that they are not alone, they are all colleagues, and they are here to support each other and share resources. This is meant to be a supportive community.

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

For in-person sessions, you could suggest that if a participant does need to leave a session that they give a thumbs-up as they go to let you know they’re okay. Tell everyone that if you don’t see a thumbs-up, you’ll ask a colleague to look for the participant outside the session to make sure they are all right.

Also, remind participants that they can share at the level that they feel comfortable with. Suggest that if anything comes up in the session that feels too important or difficult to handle on their own, people shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to the appropriate services – a counselling office or an employee assistance program – to debrief or discuss it further.

ACTIVITY: Breathing Exercise to Ground Yourself

To begin, you could have the group engage in some breathing exercises to set the tone of the session, to give participants a few moments to become aware of their own emotional well-being, and to practise a stress management technique.

If participants start to feel overwhelmed at any point, suggest they try box breathing. Box breathing is a very simple stress management exercise that can be practised anywhere. You can practise box breathing for only a minute or two and experience the immediate benefits of a calm body and a more relaxed mind.

Simply relax your body and do the following:

  • Let out all of the air in your lungs to the count of four.
  • Keep your lungs empty for a count of four.
  • Inhale for a count of four.
  • Keep your lungs full for a count of four.

Group Guidelines

It is helpful to set some expectations and boundaries for the discussion. Remind participants that this is a learning environment, and 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 is also expected that participants will be non-judgmental of each other and show extra sensitivity when engaging in discussion during the seminar. This 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. Some examples of group guidelines:

  • Share the learning, not the names or the stories (confidentiality).
  • Participants have the right to “pass” on activities/questions that feel uncomfortable.
  • It is all right to feel uncomfortable or not to know answers to everything.
  • Treat others with respect.
  • Be mindful of your language; respect everyone’s names and pronouns.
  • Remember that there may be participants who know someone who has either attempted suicide or died by suicide. The session may bring up strong emotions for them.
  • Speak for yourself. Use “I statements” to state opinions or feelings.
  • Seek to replace judgment with curiosity.
  • Take care of yourself.
  • Take space, make space (allow everyone a chance to participate).

REFLECTION: How Confident Do You Feel?

Ask the 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 is information that 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 to re-assess 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

  • This chapter was adapted from Let’s Talk: A Workshop on Suicide Intervention by Dawn Schell, University of Victoria.
  • New text: “Welcome,” “Opening Check-in Activity,” “Goals and Objectives,” “Practical Information,” and “Understanding the Role of Faculty and Staff” by Barbara Johnston and Liz Warwick. “Territory Acknowledgement and Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being” by Jewell Gillies.  CC BY 4.0 license.

Media Attributions


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Let’s Talk About Suicide: Raising Awareness and Supporting Students Copyright © 2021 by Dawn Schell; Jewell Gillies; Barbara Johnston; and Liz Warwick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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