September 30th, 2020

Suicide has rocked Medicine Hat recently… time to fight back

By RYAN MCCRACKEN on September 10, 2020.

World Suicide Prevention Day is today, and in any given year the messages surrounding the occasion are extremely important. But in Medicine Hat in 2020, after a tragic few months regarding community members taking their own lives, the need to raise awareness and lessen stigmas has never been more urgent.--SUBMITTED IMAGE

rmccracken@medicinehatnews.com@MHNMcCracken

You matter.

These two simple words form a sentiment that needs sharing in communities across the globe on this World Suicide Prevention Day – but ours in particular.

Medicine Hat has experienced several cases of death by suicide in recent months, including the loss of a teenage boy in early September. This string of local tragedies has sent a chilling shockwave through the community – underscoring the importance of positive mental health in all age brackets and pushing the insurmountably difficult conversation to the tip of everyone’s tongue.

“We always want people to have somebody to talk to,” said Breanne Mellen, suicide prevention program co-ordinator with Canadian Mental Health Southeast and chair of the Regional Suicide Prevention Council.

“We have a lot of help lines that people can call if they are struggling, but also we try to urge people to talk to the friends and family that they have and let them know that something is going on and they might need some help.”

The rash of recent suicides in the Medicine Hat area has specifically impacted men. Centre for Suicide Prevention research librarian Robert Olson says that fact isn’t uncommon for Alberta or Canada, as roughly 75 per cent of all cases in the country relate to males.

There are a few factors contributing to this uneven ratio, says Olson. Primarily, men tend to have a more difficult time opening up about their feelings and seeking help.

“We will tend to hold everything in until the very brink, until it’s almost too late and you’re in a suicidal crisis, as opposed to seeking help or reaching out,” he said. “As an organization we’re trying to spearhead programs that are designed for men, by men.”

One of those programs is Buddy Up, a campaign that encourages men to have real conversations with their friends and to support one another in the event that someone is struggling with thoughts of suicide. Learn more about the program at buddyup.ca.

“When we can talk about our problems with other men or whoever, it alleviates a lot of stress,” said Olson, adding that traditional counselling and support services can be helpful as well. “A lot of the pent-up problems dissipate if we have conversations with people who actually care. Ideally, that’s the goal. For men to come together and talk about their problems. Does that happen in reality? Hopefully we’re making a change for the better.”

While the number of recent cases is concerning, Olson says speaking about suicide with someone you care about will not push them toward suicidal ideations. Instead, it can open an important dialogue.

“Talking about suicide with a loved one or someone you’re familiar with is not going to put the idea into their head,” he said. “We definitely always recommend talking about it, because that’s not going to cause people to die by suicide. In fact, it lessens the stigma … It makes it an approachable subject that people can talk about.”

Local events

Ana Schlosser, a registered provisional psychologist with the Medicine Hat Counselling Collective, says there are a number of things that can be done locally to help the community heal and prevent further instances of tragedy.

MHCC has organized a silent vigil lantern labyrinth from 6-8:30 p.m. at Riverside Veterans Memorial Park (see story on A4), while the Regional Suicide Prevention Council will be handing out rock painting kits this afternoon at the Medicine Hat and Redcliff libraries from 1-4 p.m., before hosting a rock painting event at BeYouth at 4:30 p.m.

Various local coffee shops around town will also be distributing special beverage sleeves sporting messages of hope and stress centre numbers.

Local florist Tilted Tulip will be selling $25 hand-tied bouquets from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., or until all the flowers are gone.

The florist will be donating the money to a charity that provides support for mental heath and suicide prevention.

The support services continue into the weekend, as MHCC will host a children’s healing circle on Saturday afternoon, aimed at helping families cope. Information for the event can be found on the MHCC Facebook page.

“Our goal is to meet with children and their parents to answer any questions that children have about what’s been happening in our community, how it may be affecting them and their friends,” she said. “To give them a safe space to be able to ask questions without worrying about alarming their parents, but also to model to their parents how to respond so that parents can continue to have those conversations moving forward.”

Schlosser added she’s already seen the community come together in support of suicide prevention and awareness in recent weeks, and hopes to see that trend continue toward International Suicide Survivors of Loss Day on Nov. 21.

“Various agencies this past weekend were open and available to meet with people, which is something I don’t think has ever happened in Medicine Hat,” she said. “We hope that the conversations continue.”

Anyone seeking assistance or information regarding the topic of suicide can contact the Distress Centre at 403-266-4357, Health Link at 811, the Alberta Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642 or Kids Help Phone by calling or texting “connect” to 1-800-668-6868.

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