• John Jantak

CSSS Sentinelles volunteers dedicated to helping people in mental distress


JOHN JANTAK

A group of dedicated volunteers known at the Sentinelles were honoured by the Centre de santé et services sociaux (CSSS) de Vaudreuil-Soulanges for their important role in referring people undergoing mental distress to seek assistance.

A group of dedicated volunteers known at the “Sentinelles” whose primary aim is to assist people in crisis were honoured by the Centre de santé et services sociaux (CSSS) de Vaudreuil-Soulanges following a seminar on suicide prevention that was held at the Polymos manufacturing facility in Vaudreuil-Dorion as part of Suicide Prevention week last Thursday afternoon, February 5.

“The main purpose of Sentinelles is to have in our community people who are there to see if their colleagues are doing okay or not, especially in the workplace,” said Marie Boissonnault, Conseillere cadre du Reseaux psychosociale adulte. Boissonnault said she initiated the idea for the work environment almost six years ago because a lot of people work together and some businesses don’t have an employee assistance program.

Even for companies that provide assistance, she said some people may be reluctant to seek help or even dismiss their distress and not reach out for help. Polymos is credited for taking mental health issues seriously and was one of the first companies that agreed to participate in the program when it was launched by the CSSS in 2009. Since then, the Sentinelles program has been adopted by several community-based organizations as well, who also look out for members who may be distressed.

“The main goal at the very beginning of this program was to have that encounter with people you see every day who may be feeling uncomfortable with something, maybe they’re going through a loss or there’s a change in their behaviour. It’s really more of an outreach program,” said Boissonnault.

“If I see someone who is not their usual self, as a Sentinelle, I might say ‘You seem different today’ and ask whether something is happening. This is how we start the process. After that, it’s about making the connection with someone who is having problems and is suicidal by connecting them with the resources that are available,” Boissonnault added.

It’s not the role of the Sentinelles to provide counseling to people in distress, rather it’s to provide compassion and encourage people who are suffering to seek the help they need, said Boissonnault. Having someone accompany a person who is reluctant to seek assistance during the initial stages of a personal crisis is also beneficial.

For people who may not have access to a Sentinelle, Boissonnault recommends that people confide in someone they trust who can help them to seek the appropriate assistance. A 24-hour, seven-days-a-week suicide prevention hotline operated by Le Tournant is also available for people in distress. English and French services are provided by calling (450) 371-4090 or toll free at 1-866-APPELLE.

“I think there are more people than we realize that are touched by suicide,” said Boissonnault. “If you ask around, everyone knows at least one person. Life is so fragile, and that’s true especially with mental health issues. Nobody is immune, it can happen to anyone.”

Even though the CSSS has 115 Sentinelles, Boissonnault said the program is always looking to expand its volunteer base, especially within the English-speaking community. Anyone interested in becoming a Sentinelle can contact CSSS Community Organizer Myriam Tessier at (450) 455-6171, ext 70457.

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