There are some words in our society that are shrouded by so much stigma that it’s hard to speak openly about them. The Elk Valley Suicide Task Force is trying to change that.
The task force was founded earlier this year when three Elk Valley residents got together and decided that they needed to do something, anything, to open a conversation about suicide in our community. Tyla and Chris Charbonneau, as well as Eveliene Eijsermans got together for coffee one day and asked themselves a question: what are we going to do to address suicide in the Elk Valley?
“The problem that often happens with something like suicide is that it’s such an overwhelming thing that people just don’t know where to start or what to do,” said Tyla Charbonneau. “Finally we said, why don’t we just do something. So we created this task force.”
Charbonneau admits that the founders and members of the task force, which now includes Gareth Webb and Katie Keast don’t fully know how the group is going to develop. They’ve started by organizing a suicide information night on February 12 at Park Place Lodge and plan to see what the community needs from there.
“Our biggest thing was let’s start talking about it because it’s happening, it’s continuing to happen,” Charbonneau said. “Let’s see if we can get the community together to say ‘we support you’ to the people who are thinking about it or are impacted by it and talk about it because we know from the research that if you talk about suicide, it does help.”
Both Charbonneau and Webb said that they’ve had some interesting reactions to the task force name since they launched earlier this year. As it turns out, even saying the word suicide is quite a “heavy thing,” said Webb.
They’ve also had questions about whether their February event is “too soon” following several suicides in the valley over the past few months. Webb responded to concerns by noting that for him “it really hit home how important this work is just because as we’re planning this event, it’s happened again.”
Charbonneau agreed with the sentiment, adding that if they postponed the information night they would only be playing into the stereotype that it’s not okay to talk about suicide. If there is one major goal for the task force, it’s to assure people that it is not only okay, but really important to talk openly about suicide and start breaking that stigma down.
“One of the biggest messages that I’m going to try and get out it that every single person on the planet, or at least in North America since I can’t speak for other cultures, has a moment in their life where they think, ‘you know, it would a lot easier if I just wasn’t here’,” said Charbonneau. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to follow up on it but that idea of normalizing it that everybody has some version of that thought and it’s okay…We need to be able to allow people to talk about it without panicking.”
The information night aims to facilitate conversation around suicide and also make people more aware of the services and resources available to them in the Elk Valley. The night will feature 15 guest speakers with experience in everything ranging from youth and adult counselling, addiction services, social work, working with people with disabilities, experience with suicide and more. Local groups such as the RCMP, the Women’s Resource Centre, Fellaship and physicians will also be represented.
The task force hopes to have a brochure made up that lists all the different services available, not only for people considering suicide but for people who have been impacted by suicide in different ways. People will be able to take this information home with them to ponder further. Anyone who attends the event is also encouraged to ask questions, either by writing them down or speaking with one of the many health professionals who will be facilitating the event.
“We’re not trying to be experts and say that we know everything about it,” said Webb. “We’re trying to welcome more discussion…My hope is that we can actually get to a place where we can talk about suicide and prevention or support after the fact as well.”
The task force members brought up a key point about their name and how it lacks one word in particular that is sometimes related to suicide: prevention.
“We purposely left that word out because that’s only one side of the story,” said Charbonneau. “The other pieces of the story are support and resources and coming together as a community…because do we have the power to stop every suicide?”
The answer, Charbonneau said, is no. However, if the task force is able to stop even some suicides, or provide support to those who have been impacted, then it’s a success.
“If you’re just trying to capture prevention then you’re excluding that whole group of people who might need access to support and need to keep talking about this because it will still be with them forever,” Webb added.
Even though suicide is undoubtedly difficult to speak about openly, it is imperative that people feel safe to speak out about their experiences with either suicidal thoughts or suicide in general. Webb noted that one way or another, suicide affects the entire community.
“We are a community and suicide affects the community as a whole,” he said. “That will be really obvious that night, I think. Whether we’re part of the panel or the public on the other side, we’re all affected and all a part of this healing.”
The suicide information night will take place on February 12 at 6:30 p.m. at the Seniors Centre. The event is free and open to anyone. For more information, you can reach out to the Elk Valley Suicide Task Force via email at email@example.com. If you or anyone you know is in crisis and at risk of suicide, please call 911, go to your local emergency room or call 1-800-426-8407 (adults) or 1-800-784-2433 (youth).