© Geraldine Brophy
Bill Griffin holds a sign as he listens to the speakers prior to the start of the World Suicide Prevention Day walk Tuesday at city hall.
CORNER BROOK Sandie Batt and Mary Fisher know all too well about the lingering effects suicides have on a family and are doing everything they can to try and keep another family from experiencing the same tragic fallout.
The Corner Brook women have been the faces and voices of the Suicide Prevention and Awareness Committee in the city since its inception.
On Tuesday night, during the fifth annual walk to promote World Suicide Prevention Awareness Day, they did more than recount their gripping personal experiences publicly. They talked about the things that have been happening behind the scenes and that are coming down the pipe to continue to educate people about suicide and how to watch out for it.
In 2010, a suicide prevention sub-committee was formed under the Community Mental Health Initiative.
It has raised money to produce a variety of promotional materials aimed at raising awareness of the warning signs of suicide and to loosen the grip of the stigma associated with the mental health issues that lead people to take their own lives.
Fisher, whose 17-year-old son Jason died in 2007, has been doing presentations at conferences and in schools to help spread the message. Her story was told Tuesday via a newly created video that was shown to those who took part in the walk.
The committee recently hosted a barbecue for first-year post secondary students at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University — the first time that event has happened. This year will also mark the third year for an annual Christmas Tree of Memories that honours those lost to suicide.
In October, the committee will be hosting a full-day workshop, open to the general public, for suicide prevention and awareness.
Batt lost her dad, Neil Gillard, in 1979 when she was just 13 years old and then lost her sister, Karen Henderson, in 2009. She said, although there are some contributing factors — mental illness, relationship breakdowns, financial hardship to name just a few — that cannot be changed, the focus needs to be on continued support and education.
That campaign has to cover every aspect of the community, said Batt, from the circle of family and friends to the schools and workplaces of everyone.
“I would like to see a person trained in every workplace to assist a person in time of crisis and to, more importantly, work with colleagues in their place of employment for continuous education relating to stress and mental health,” she said.
Part of the educational effort involves trying to change the language people have become accustomed to using when speaking about suicide. Jade Kearley, interagency coordinator with CMHI, said a term like “committing” suicide carries with it a criminal connotation. Saying a suicide was “successful” or an attempt was “failed” also sends a wrong message, she added.
She said simply saying someone “died by suicide” more accurately reflects the reality while maintaining the dignity of those affected.
“People who have lost someone to suicide have indicated the language used to describe a suicide death further stigmatizes the tragic situation for those grieving and coping with the suicide death of a loved one,” she said. “This stigma makes it more difficult for people to reach out for help or for others to help reach in to assist them.”