Alice Chan – Clinical Nurse Specialist, Mental Health

Written by Evan Duxbury

Alice Chan – Clinical Nurse Specialist, Mental Health

This week’s meet & greet coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day, so Alice was a natural choice, but we also wanted to include a patient’s perspective on the topic. Jude was treated at St Paul’s after his suicide attempt and now works in the community as a Peer Support Worker with Vancouver Coastal Health.

What’s your role in helping patients with Mental Health conditions?

Alice (A): I’ve been a clinical nurse specialist at St Paul’s for 12 years, working with the many patients who are dealing with addiction and mental health issues in addition to their primary care needs. I work on improving the healthcare system with respect to how we address those complex patient care issues.

Jude (J): In 1996 I tried to kill myself by jumping in front of the skytrain. I underwent 6 hours of emergency surgery at St Paul’s and spent 4.5 months between the medicine unit and the psychiatric ward. I’m now using my experience to help people who are facing a similar challenge.

What’s the most important coping mechanism when it comes to suicide?

A: There are many.  It is a very personal choice for the individual.  As a nurse, I collaborate with the individual to figure out what has worked, what might work, what the individual is willing to try.

J: After moving to the psychiatric care ward I found a peer group who were grappling with the same issues I was facing, including a police officer and a doctor. This was big for me; it showed me that I wasn’t alone.

How can people support somebody battling suicidal thoughts?

A: Sitting with somebody in that situation and listening to what they have to say is critical. Often when a patient shares their thoughts with me, it’s the first time they’ve disclosed it to anybody and I hear “What a relief, I’ve never told anybody before.”

J: Don’t give advice, don’t judge, just listen and honor what that person is sharing. Thank the person for sharing and having the courage to share.

How does including patients in their own recovery plans help?

A: Person centered care has been embraced by our Mental Health Program. We involve patients and their families on various committees and/or working groups and one of the benefits is that it helps to normalize having a mental illness. If we can involve more patients and their families in being active and equal partners in their recovery as well as changing aspects of the healthcare system we can help people accept that mental health issues are a part of life just like physical Illness.

J: When I work with the team at PHC I feel very involved in care decisions. It means a lot that my input isn’t discounted because I have “mental health problems.”  Having been in my clients’ situation, I know they feel the same way.

What opportunities do you see in future of suicide prevention?

J: The internet has become a great connection tool and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of resources come out in the near future, like the department’s new website.

A: We have a long way to go, but peer support workers like Jude are playing a bigger role. I’d love to have some of them working here in the Mental Health Program, and that might be something we change in the near future as our program evolves into becoming truly person centered.

If you have questions or comments for Alice or Jude, please send them to