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Stigma, cyberbullying and hope centre stage as B.C. hosts suicide prevention conference

Click to play video: 'National suicide prevention conference in Vancouver'
National suicide prevention conference in Vancouver
The annual National Suicide Prevention Conference is gettitng underway in Vancouver. And as Cassidy Mosconi reports, one of the main topics will be the kind of sextortion and cyber bullying that took the lives of three B.C. teenagers – May 29, 2024

WARNING: This article contains sensitive descriptions regarding suicide. Please read with discretion.

Hundreds of people from across Canada are gathering in Vancouver this week to talk about what is often viewed as one of society’s most taboo subjects.

The city is playing host to the 34th annual National Suicide Prevention Conference, and one of the event’s primary goals is to break down that stigma and ensure the difficult topic is something people can talk about.

Click to play video: 'Historic Golden Gate Bridge gets suicide prevention nets, why not B.C.’s Alex Fraser Bridge?'
Historic Golden Gate Bridge gets suicide prevention nets, why not B.C.’s Alex Fraser Bridge?

British Columbia alone records between 450 and 650 suicides per year, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

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The numbers are particularly troubling amount youth: suicide is the number two cause of death among British Columbians between the ages of 10 and 18.

Those numbers aren’t just statistics. They reflect the tragic deaths of real young people like Amanda Todd, Carson Cleland and Robin Janjua, all victims of online harassment, sextortion or cyberbullying.

Unsurprisingly, that topic is getting plenty of discussion at this year’s conference.

“Cyberbullying is a huge issue, we need to have much better and stronger regulation around it,” said Sean Krausert, executive director of the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention.

“We need to be a leader in the world. There are some initiatives in other jurisdictions that will help to regulate cyberbullying and I believe that Canada needs to follow suit.”

Across Canada every day an estimated 12 people take their own lives.

Click to play video: 'Warning to parents after suicide of B.C. boy linked to sextortion'
Warning to parents after suicide of B.C. boy linked to sextortion

A key message of the annual conference is that it doesn’t have to be that way: suicide is preventable, and there are more resources available today than at any time in the past.

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But it is only available if people are prepared to talk.

“There’s a lot of fear involved because there is a lot of lack of knowledge,” said Maria Weaver, associate director of suicide prevention and life promotion with the Canadian Mental Health Association in B.C.

“It can be quite painful to learn that someone we know is dealing with suicide, and so there are many reasons why I think there are big feelings that come up, but the more we have these conversations the easier it gets, so we can really humanize suicide.”

The conference draws clinicians, frontline workers, researchers and people with lived experience to build relationships and share best practices from across Canada.

Some participants like Veronica Marshall-Bernard, a Nova Scotia clinical therapist and co-vice president of the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention bring both personal and professional experience.

Click to play video: 'Mother of Amanda Todd speaks after sentencing of daughter’s harasser'
Mother of Amanda Todd speaks after sentencing of daughter’s harasser

Marshall-Bernard, a member of the Potlotek First Nation, lost both of her young brothers to suicide — devastating experiences that pushed her into a career in mental health.

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“Instead of it immobilizing me I then took that and I channeled it into something else, which was my schooling and my career path,” she said.

Marshall-Bernard said history has shown that keeping quiet about the topic of suicide doesn’t work, and only leaves people who are struggling further isolated.

But she said it’s important to remember there is always hope, too.

“Just try. Just be brave,” she said.

“I think chances are you will find out pretty quickly that people really want to talk about it. And sometimes it’s just that ask as well, just be really forward about it and non-judgemental, patient, kind.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 9-1-1 for immediate help.

For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention at suicideprevention.ca.

Learn more about preventing suicide with these warning signs and tips on how to help.

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