Gatekeepers creating suicide-safer communities

Gatekeepers creating suicide-safer communities

Community educator Liesel Reimer from the Canadian Mental Health Association talks about suicide prevention during a recent presentation to the Rotary Club of Osoyoos. (Photo by Lyonel Doherty)

By Lyonel Doherty

“I’m going to kill myself.”

This is probably the most disturbing thing that a parent can hear from a child during a family argument.

Those words can break your heart, and most times parents don’t know how to react.

Is your son or daughter bluffing? Are they just saying that to make you feel guilty? Are you willing to take the risk and ignore it, only to find out later that your child carried through with the act?

No. Confront it head on; no beating around the bush, according to Liesel Reimer, community educator for the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

Reimer was guest speaker at a recent Rotary Club of Osoyoos meeting, where she spoke about the CMHA’s “Gatekeeper” training program that creates suicide-safer communities.

Reimer began by saying 614 people in B.C. committed suicide in 2015. That number decreased slightly in 2016. She noted that the Interior and Okanagan regions have higher than average rates of suicide.

With every suicide there is usually 20 or more attempts at suicide, Reimer pointed out.

Taking one’s life directly impacts approximately 20 people (family and friends), she said. In 2015, nearly 12,300 people were impacted by suicide.

Reimer noted that death by suicide costs the health care system in B.C. approximately $346 million.

Anyone can be at risk for suicide, the educator said, citing that 75 per cent of all suicide deaths involve men. Male Inuit youth are 11 times more likely to die by suicide than non-Inuit male youth.

While more women attempt suicide, they tend to use less lethal means, according to the CMHA.

Reimer said the whole point of suicide alertness and intervention is being prepared to help anyone who may be at risk.

She stated that depression, anxiety and substance misuse can play into suicide but they aren’t necessarily the cause of it. Research shows that not all who die by suicide are mentally ill.

“There are many dimensions, but the main thing is that people feel overwhelmed; they feel life is too much, life is too difficult. That puts on them an incredible pressure, where death seems like a better choice than living.”

But suicide prevention training helps people understand this problem better.

Reimer said towns that have a population of 25,000 have three to four projected suicide deaths per year. That jumps to six to seven deaths per year in cities with a population of 50,000.

But with Gatekeeper training, the CMHA believes that suicide is almost always preventable in some way.

“We can have early intervention to help people get the help they need sooner in those moments.”

Reimer said everyone can play a part in suicide alertness, particularly those who interact with a lot of people, such as bartenders and school teachers.

Gatekeeper training includes “safeTALK,” a half-day workshop on suicide alertness. You don’t have to be a counsellor. All you need to do is listen, be alert, ask the question and connect people to help.

The other program is called “ASIST,” a two-day workshop on applied intervention skills.

“This is a lot more intense. This is for people who really want to be able to be those first aiders for suicide.”

Reimer said this first aid connects people to life again.

She noted some people are chronic in their thoughts of suicide, while others only think about it once.

“They say one in 20 people at any time are thinking about suicide. But that doesn’t mean they’re all going to act.”

One Rotarian asked how do you know that you have a suicide-safer community.

Reimer said her experience has shown that a community is safer when people feel comfortable to talk about the pain.

Reimer was asked how parents should deal with a situation when a child threatens to kill herself following a big argument with mom and dad.

“When you hear those words coming from your own child, it’s heartbreaking,” the man said, referring to his own daughter who threatened suicide after a nasty argument.

Reimer advised that parents need to treat these incidents seriously and ask the child directly if he or she is really thinking of killing themselves.

“It’s one of our misconceptions that it’s attention-seeking. Any teenager I’ve ever worked with who said I’m going to kill myself, in that moment I’ve stopped and I go, ‘we need to talk about this right now . . . are you thinking of killing yourself?’”

Reimer said youth are normally quick to clear the air by confirming whether they are serious or not.

If they say yes, you can call 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) and talk to someone. You can even put them on speaker phone and they’ll walk you through it if you don’t know what to do.

For more information about being a community Gatekeeper, call the CMHA in Penticton at 250-493-8999.