Eleven people may attempt suicide each day in Edmonton. Two years of data from several sources have gone into that calculation, according to Ione Challborn, executive director of Canadian Mental Health Association – Edmonton Region.
The main message she said will be driven home Tuesday, to kick off suicide prevention awareness is, “all of us have a responsibility in learning the signs of some one in distress.”
Many of those signs are silent, like someone losing a spouse, or facing economic hardship, or turning to increased drug-use or alcohol or mental stress. But Challborn said hearing the words “I want to kill myself” is also a trigger.
“Absolutely. We think somebody may be kidding, or minimize it for a couple of reasons. We can’t believe it of that person, the one we know. And also because of the fear that we may have of asking further questions and not knowing what to do with the information.”
Coun. Scott McKeen agrees the subject has been taboo for so long.
“As a former member of the media, I know we were sort of told that we couldn’t write about suicides, to keep it all hush-hush. And I think that was the overall message that we all got. That was a message that added to, or perpetuated, the shame around suicide.”
McKeen recalled a recent memorial he attended for a firefighter, as first responders have a higher rate of suicide than those in other professions.
“The priest was so good that day. He said, ‘Suicide is a bit like a mental health heart attack.’
“We attribute negative character traits to someone who takes their own, I think that’s totally unfair. We just don’t understand the context. And as someone who has had depression in his life I can tell you, you lose all perspective.”
McKeen wears a tattoo on his left wrist, marking the semi-colon campaign.
“You didn’t put a period on your life,” he said.
“We’re trying not to use this term — commit suicide — anymore,” McKeen said. “You commit crime.
“Language can be important and I understand people roll their eyes at political correctness, but I’m trying not to say that because it’s not a crime you’re committing. You’ve decided unfortunately that you’re in such a negative place that you take your own life.”
Coun. Aaron Paquette will also participate in the launch. He said he’s seeing more despair in his ward, as simple things compound, and leave youth, seniors and especially middle-aged men feeling isolated.
He said one of the strategies that will be talked about at Tuesday’s launch is an event Oct. 2 in Belvedere that will help open a conversation in an effort to bring city and police services to more individuals.
“This is an effort that reaches out to people, lets them know that there are people who will listen to them if they’re feeling like times are tough and also an effort to get the community to come back together,” Paquette said.