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Saving lives: New P.E.I. suicide prevention strategy has 65 action items

Joe Driscoll, who lost his 21-year-old son Jason to suicide last year, believes the new provincial suicide strategy will save lives.
Joe Driscoll, who lost his 21-year-old son Jason to suicide last year, believes the new provincial suicide strategy will save lives. - Jim Day

A new suicide prevention strategy for P.E.I. focuses on hearing, helping and healing as building blocks of hope.

Among the strategy’s 65 action items is a call to modernize harassment and bullying policies for schools; erecting barriers on the Hillsborough Bridge; establishing mobile crisis response units and peer support; ensuring proper training, staff resources and supports within the health care system; and providing a provincial critical incident stress management coordinator.

The Department of Health and Wellness worked in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to create the strategy.

Amanda Brazil, director of programs and policy with the Canadian Mental Health Association, P.E.I. Division, says options to heal from pain and loss
Amanda Brazil, director of programs and policy with the Canadian Mental Health Association, P.E.I. Division, says options to heal from pain and loss

“Suicide is an extremely complex public health issue and what we do know is that nobody is immune,’’ says Amanda Brazil, director of programs and policy with CMHA, P.E.I. division.

“But as the pillars of a strong suicide prevention strategy became apparent to us, we needed to reach out to interest groups in our communities, with whom we could conduct consultations in a safe, inclusive space where the dialogue could be one of honesty and understanding and where vulnerabilities and strengths could be explored.’’

Striking conversations ranged from Indigenous communities discussing the impact of residential schools, intergenerational trauma and systemic racism to members of the LGBTQ community sharing personal stories of living with denial, shame and trauma.

Brazil says equipping communities and individuals to hear the pain, loss and needs of people will help reduce stigma associated with suicide and normalize experiences of hopelessness resulting in individuals feeling less isolated.

Having access to help when pain and loss become overwhelming, she continues, can prevent the progression of suicidality and replace the feelings with hope for recovery and well-being.

Brazil adds providing options to heal from pain and loss should address the root causes of suicidality.

“To heal, individuals must have an array of available treatment options, supports, and resources to address pain and loss,’’ she says.

Joe Driscoll is impressed with the strategy, even if it comes too late for his son, Jason, who took his own life at age 21 on May 9, 2017.

Driscoll notes family decided right away to be open about Jason’s death in a powerful obituary that stated the pain Jason felt was never evident to anyone.

“It was our thought right from the first that we needed to speak about it because Jason couldn’t talk. He didn’t. And we felt we need to on his behalf,’’ says Driscoll.

“We never expected it to happen in our family and it did and it happens in too many other families.’’

Driscoll sees the new strategy reducing the stigma that he believes kept his son from reaching out for help.

“I truly believe this strategy will save lives,’’ he says.

“More young people need to be reached earlier in life so that they know what they are feeling, and why they are feeling it and what to do about it.’’

Health and Wellness Minister Robert Mitchell says his department along with families, front-line services and all communities across P.E.I. have a vital role to play in building a province where people can find hope and a reason to live.

“This strategy is about inspiring a culture of hope, where people feel that they belong, that they have worth, and where they can find support to help them work through their pain,’’ he says.

For a copy of The Building Blocks of Hope – A Suicide Prevention Strategy for Prince Edward Island, visit princeedwardisland.ca/suicide-prevention.

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