Since the beginning of the new year, Port Alberni RCMP have noticed the number of calls they are responding to related to mental illness or suicides has alarmingly increased.
Media liaison Const. Shelly Schedewitz said it is something that has come to their attention in the Alberni Valley, as well as in neighbouring regions.
“We have seen an increase in suicides as the new year has progressed,” Schedewitz explained.
“We have responded to an increase in mental health files and suicides.”
She said it is important, when they see an increase like this, that an effort be made to get educational information out to the public so that they know where to turn in a time of crisis.
Port Alberni Canadian Mental Health Association executive director Bob Hargreaves agrees that education and awareness is the key to most mental health concerns, especially suicide because it is preventable.
But he added that when you are dealing with a small population-base, like Port Alberni, it does not take much to create a spike in statistics.
“But that said, every life lost matters,” he said.
It is important not to simplify suicides, because it is a complex issue that involves a number of factors, he added.
Hargreaves stressed that there are a lot of resources in the Alberni Valley that are available to residents, but he said the most important one is the people close to the person considering suicide.
“All thoughts of suicide should be taken seriously,” he said. “Ask a direct question, you won't be putting the idea in their head.”
He said when someone is considering suicide it can be a very lonely time, and knowing someone cares enough to ask questions can make a big difference.
“It is not a simple topic,” he said. “But [asking if someone is considering suicide] is a strong and caring statement.”
The next step, Hargreaves points out, is knowing what to do if they say they have thought about it. Hargreaves said the person asking the question needs to be prepared with resources that can help.
He said the Alberni Valley has many resources available, including the KUU-US Crisis Line Society (1-800-588-8717), which is part of the 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) network. Youth can chat on www. youthspace.ca or www.youthinbc. com. And the province offers the site www.heretohelp.bc.ca. for help.
Elia Nicholson-Nave, executive director of KUU-US, said the crisis line is there to save lives.
Nicholson-Nave said it is their job to help people who are considering suicide, but they can only help the ones who make the call.
“Outreach can save lives, but they have to pick up the phone,” she said. “There are a lot of services in the community that can help, but only if people reach out for that help.”
She said the crisis line received approximately 7,000 calls last year, and she estimates 50 to 60 per cent of them are people considering suicide. That is partially because they handle calls to the provincial suicide crisis line, but she believes 35 to 40 per cent of the calls they receive from Port Alberni are suicide risks.
She agrees with Hargreaves that the people closest to the person considering suicide can be the key to preventing them following through.
She said the society offers a program that can coach loved ones on what to do if they suspect someone is suicidal, called Suicide Safe Talks.
But the key is knowing what to look for. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, the risk of suicide is greater if a behaviour is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss or change. If you or someone you know exhibits any of these signs, seek help as soon as possible by calling the distress line: . Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves.
. Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online or buying a gun.
. Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
. Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
. Talking about being a burden to others.
. Increasing substance use.
. Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
. Sleeping too little or too much.
. Withdrawing or isolating themselves.
. Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
. Displaying extreme mood swings.
Hargreaves said 90 per cent of the people who commit suicide suffer from depression, and substance abuse often plays a big role in the cause. Seniors make up 12 per cent of the annual suicides in this country, and it is the second leading cause of death in youth.
Nicholson-Nave said it is important to realize anyone can be affected.
“It happens in every walk of life, every ethnicity, gender and economic status,” she said. “Help is out there. It is only one phone call away.”
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