Suicide prevention and Together As One peer support program, told through the experience of a nurse at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center who’s on a mission to reduce the stigma around clinician mental health.
Christopher Wojnar says his purpose in life is to positively impact as many people as possible.
“If I can help somebody else through my experiences from what I’ve learned, through the things I’ve been through, to take a bad situation and make it a positive one, that’s what I want to do,” Wojnar says.
Wojnar is a nurse on the neurological intensive care unit at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center, where he brings compassion and empathy to patients who have suffered a traumatic event or illness. His drive to help is driven by his own struggles.
“When I was younger, I was overweight and bullied. I actually attempted suicide,” Wojnar says. Years later, months after starting his job at St. Luke’s in 2018, he reconnected with a childhood friend who died by suicide shortly thereafter.
“That was pretty much one of the most defining moments in the path that has led me to where I am today,” he says. The pain was compounded by losing colleagues to suicide, too. Wojnar wanted to do what he could to his help his friends and coworkers while reducing the stigma around mental health challenges.
“I thought about what we could do to provide some education and create awareness about what we can do when we see someone struggling,” said Wojnar. “That ultimately led to collaboration with our Employee Assistance Program, developing a postvention suicide tool kit for team members, developing a Zero Suicide learning connection module, and just trying to create awareness and develop education around warning signs.”
With partnership from many departments, particularly Advocate Aurora Health’s Mission and Spiritual Care team, Wojnar’s efforts also led to the Together As One peer support program. The initiative trains team members from all departments across Advocate Aurora Health to recognize and intervene when a peer is impacted by workplace stress. These ambassadors can refer their colleagues to specialized Advocate Aurora resources for trauma recovery, spiritual care, employee assistance and behavioral health. Through 2022, more than 1,000 team members have trained as peer support ambassadors.
Wojnar is excited about the program and its potential to reach more team members. “It is amazing to see all the people who are interested,” he says. “The program teaches skills that not only allow people to be there for others, but also to help themselves.”