May 11th, 2021

Family turns tragedy into action for mental health

By COLLIN GALLANT on November 19, 2020.

Brandon Niwa, pictured in this undated submitted photo, is one of several community members to die of suicide in recent months. His family has dedicated $100,000 toward mental health supports in Medicine Hat.--SUBMITTED PHOTO

A family affected by suicide will dedicate $100,000 to bolster mental health supports in Medicine Hat.

Lindsay Niwa told reporters on Wednesday that her family has spent months attempting to reconcile the death of her brother, Brandon, last May.

That has been a painful process that is still ongoing, she said, but now the family hopes to become “proactive.”

The fund will aim to help others address ongoing issues but also provide foundational work with young people to help them manage their mental health before crisis arises.

“Over this summer, we had debriefing with mental health professionals in my parents’ yard,” said Lindsay, who herself practised as a mental health nurse.

“I have a background in mental health, and the last five months have changed how I parent my son.

“The ultimate goal is to give kids skills and coping strategies right out of the gate.”

The money will be managed by the Community Foundation of Southeast Alberta, and be available to a working group of educational administrators. They will meet Friday to begin developing strategies.

That includes officials from Medicine Hat College, three local school boards – Medicine Hat Public, Catholic and regional Prairie Rose School Division – along with the Medicine Hat Police Service.

Those groups already co-ordinate some programming, and MHC president Kevin Shufflebotham said new work will address any potential “gaps” in the system of local supports.

“One of the strengths is that we already have a partnership in place,” he said. “When you think about mental health in a whole community, it’s not one organization that can tackle it. Creating an advisory committee will make the most difference possible … and a sustainable difference in the community.”

Niwa said her family thanks the entire community for their support and wants positive action to come from it.

“We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, we already have professionals in place and can address what the community’s needs are,” she said.

Niwa’s is one of a number of suicide deaths in Medicine Hat this summer that has raised public consciousness about the issue.

No official number has been released by health care or mental health professionals, but widespread discussion in the community puts the number at more than a dozen.

Niwa said her family is dealing with grief that is difficult to resolve.

She urged everyone to consider their own mental health on an ongoing basis, not only, but especially, when stress is becoming overwhelming.

“What is the worst that can come from reaching out?” she said.

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