- Category: Local News
- Written by Cory Knutt
A community workshop held Tuesday night in Altona aimed to break down the stigma surrounding suicide.
About 50 people attended the meeting at the Altona Curling Club, which was organized by the Rhineland Inter-Agency Team. It wasn’t just a local event, as there were professionals and citizens in attendance from other communities as well including Winkler, Morden, and Portage la Prairie.
Organizer and suicide prevention advocate Colleen Mullen lost her son to suicide in 2005.
She explains why it’s so important to shine a light on the issue.
“I think a lot of people feel ashamed. They feel that it reflects on who they are as a person,” she said. “I think the more we talk about it, I think more people will realize they are not alone, and the more we talk about it and share our thoughts, the better we’ll feel if we know that we’re not alone.”
Mullen explained living in a rural area can often present challenges when dealing with mental health issues, noting resources such as councillors, psychologists, and psychiatrists are often difficult to access. She’s hoping that more local people will undergo training that will allow them to help those dealing with mental illness.
During the event, the tragic story of Mullen’s son was retold through a video written and directed by Morden’s Melissa McCausland, a Grade 10 student at Northlands Parkway Collegiate (NPC) in Winkler. The video entitled “Dear Son”, showed how suicide affects a loved one’s family.
McCausland, who has dealt with depression since a young age, said the workshop was a great learning experience.
“I think it’s an amazing idea and I really love seeing that the whole community coming together to talk about it,” she said. “Especially seeing adults who have dealt with depression and survived. I know as a kid I always thought I’d never see anyone else as an adult who’s dealt with it but this has really widened my eyes.”
The community forum was part of the 308 Conversations initiative, which was launched by the Mental Health Commission of Canada under the former Harper government. The idea was to get all 308 MP’s (now 338) talking about the issue of suicide.
Candice Bergen, Conservative MP for Portage-Lisgar, was instrumental in helping make the event happen.
In her address to the crowd, she noted that a person’s beliefs can sometimes make it difficult to discuss the issue of suicide.
“Sometime people who are Christians and strong believers struggle with mental illness,” said Bergen. “Christians commit suicide and we need to talk about that as Christians, as believers, and as people of different faiths because we are also growing in our communities as far as people with different faiths. Those are just some difficult issues but they have to be talked about.”
Ideas from the workshop will be forwarded to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which will then collate all the suggestions to come up with a community model for suicide prevention.
The video below was written and directed by NPC Grade 10 Student Melissa McCausland: