Northern Saskatchewan community representatives congregated in Prince Albert this week to address disproportionately high suicide rates across the region.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Mamaweton Churchill River Health Region youth health promotion coordinator Amanda Frain facilitates a discussion on Wednesday at the suicide prevention workshop Embracing Life: Northern Saskatchewan Working Together, which took place at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre.
Organized by the Embracing Life Committee, the two-day suicide prevention workshop Embracing Life: Northern Saskatchewan Working Together took place on Tuesday and Wednesday at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre.
Approximately 230 participants attended the workshop, which brought together northern community members, human service organizations, youth and government representatives to discuss suicide prevention techniques and related services.
“Overall, I’m really pleased with the attendance that we’ve had here,” Embracing Life chair Amanda Laboucane said as the workshop drew to a close.
“We have had very good representation from across the north from nearly all of our communities, and that’s great to see. The rooms have just been buzzing with passion and commitment from everybody who’s here, and those are two key ingredients to keeping this going and seeing suicide be reduced in our communities. So I’m very thankful that everyone was here and look forward to keeping things going.”
The picture of suicide in northern Saskatchewan is very different from the rest of the province or Canada as a whole.
A presentation by medical health officer Dr. James Irvine on the first day underscored the scope of the problem. Nationally, suicide mostly affects people later in life.
By contrast, the suicide rate in northern Saskatchewan is four times as high as the provincial average and predominantly affects individuals in the 16-25 age range.
“It’s a complicated issue and I don’t think we can attribute the cause of suicide to one particular thing,” Laboucane said.
“There are certainly a lot of risk factors that play into it. Some are on the individual level, such as individual experiences -- bullying, if they’ve been a victim of any type of abuse or assault. Those can all play a role.”
She went on, “Some of the issues and risk factors are societal, in that they’re around one’s environment and their social networks … Other things are just larger -- cultural or systemic, things like poverty, things that kind of happen on a larger scale … All those three different levels can play a role in leading to suicide.”
Planning for the workshop began in spring, when representatives from fields such as health, education and law saw the need to tackle the spectre of suicide in the north.
The rooms have just been buzzing with passion and commitment from everybody who’s here, and those are two key ingredients to keeping this going and seeing suicide be reduced in our communities. Amanda LaBoucane
Through discussion, participants quickly realized that pooling their knowledge and resources offered more potential for success than each community going it alone.
In the course of this week’s workshop, community representatives convened to discuss their priorities and potential solutions.
“There was a wide range of things offered up, from small details right up to overarching themes, basically,” Laboucane said. “Some of the specific action items that people suggested are more community programs that connect elders and youth and bring a cultural component into the activities and the programming.
“There was talk about having youth trained in ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) … so that youth are empowered to deal with their peers when it comes to this issue. And then some of the discussion also tended towards kind of larger overarching themes, and that’s just more … community involvement and community inclusion.”
Among the local representatives at the workshop was Prince Albert Grand Council Embracing Life co-ordinator Linda Cairns.
As a keynote speaker and group facilitator, Cairns discussed how some of the ideas might be applied to specific conditions in Prince Albert.
The workshop was designed as an ongoing initiative. Organizers plan to compile results and feedback on the workshop’s website to provide a collection of resources and information for future reference.
“Evaluation was a key component of our workshop throughout at various stages,” Laboucane said.
“That was one of the questions that we asked participants: What does sustainability of this initiative look like to them? Is it having another workshop once a year or twice a year? Is it forming other working groups? Is it having a key committee that’s connected to all of the communities?
“There are various options on how the sustainability piece will look like and we really left it up to the participants. So we look forward to getting that feedback at the end of the workshop.”