As advanced as our society is these days, why do such ancient notions and myths continue to exist around the topic of suicide, the underlying mental illnesses, and, of course, the shame factor for those left behind? The answers are as wide ranging as the people themselves who have left this earth too early, and as diverse as those who are left behind to try and pick up the pieces looking for answers.
A special group of people and organizations have come together once again to host the Walk of Remembrance Sept. 6 at the group picnic shelter of Bud Miller All Seasons Park between 3 and 6 p.m. The walk is to honour the memory of those we have lost to suicide in recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day.
Promoting hope and resilience for all, the event will provide guest speakers, resources and information, music and friendship, and a time to visit and share a special memory of loved ones. Snacks and refreshments will be available at the picnic shelter following the walk.
Shirley Scott, facilitator of the Walking Through Grief Society, is only one member of the committee responsible for organizing the walk, said, “I think we’ve always faced stigma, shame and the more secretive part of suicide.”
With the recent passing and worldwide attention created by the suicide of actor Robin Williams, Scott said, “This has brought it to the foreground where people are starting to talk about mental illness, even in celebrities. We need to talk about it and we need to listen.”
Out of the tragedy for Williams and his friends, family and fans, this is a perfect example of finding a positive in a negative. The positive being, “That has brought an awareness and people talking now,” said Scott.
According to the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, “every second male that dies due to suicide is between 30 and 54 years of age. One out of every three suicide deaths is a male between 30 and 54 years of age. Males between 30 and 54 years of age account for 50 per cent of the suicide deaths in males. In 2010, of the 387 male suicide deaths (75 per cent), over 50 per cent (198 deaths) were males between 30 and 54 years of age. Those between 15 and 24 years of age accounted for 16 per cent of male suicide deaths (62 deaths).”
Scott knows that the numbers in Alberta and Saskatchewan are high, but says, “Any number is too high.” The statistics tell that the total consists of predominantly males, but the number of female suicides is rising.
About a guest speaker, confirmed just on Aug. 28, “We have Lorna Thomas from Edmonton, who will be bringing three people with her who have all experienced loss by suicide. One of them is a musician.” So, they will also be offering music to the gathering.
The walk itself begins at 3 p.m., and the participants will be welcomed by dignitaries. The walk starts at the picnic shelter, and goes around the lake for a 20-minute course. “Right up until six o’clock people will be able to stay and meet each other and make some contacts that way,” said Scott. As of press time, the list of dignitaries is unconfirmed.
The walk is now in its fifth year, three under the direction of the current committee, which consists of Walking Through Grief Society in partnership with: FCSS Lloydminster (Family and Community Support Services); Victim Services Lloydminster; Onion Lake Wellness Centre; the Lloydminster Friendship Centre, Men at Risk; and the Regional Suicide Prevention Council, along with the Mental Health Addictions Department as well.
The committee is very knowledgeable about this topic, bringing a range of experiences and topic knowledge to the table. They know the impact a suicide makes on a community. This group are in the best position to understand the ripple effect on how a suicide affects a family and a community.
It all started when a community member lost a daughter to suicide.
“They were the courageous ones,” said Scott, who made a walk through Bud Miller All Season Park. “It was such a comforting and healing time, that that happened the next year.” Since then, the woman moved away from Lloydminster and the current committee decided to take on the project and keep it going and host it annually.
“I would say each one (committee member) has probably had some part in reaching out to, and either initially or down the road from that loss, have been supportive,” said Scott.
Looking at the prevention side of the equation, the tough question is, has the committee been able to prevent any suicides? Scott explained that is a tough thing to know.
“I think that probably they have,” she said. “We know that some of them (walkers) are survivors, and they find it’s just a comfort to find there are other people they can reach out and talk to.”
Through the different sharing processes in place naturally, the walkers and the survivors mingle and share publicly with others or be a support for others, Scott said she believes, “I can see the walk has touched people and given them an opportunity to speak about their loved one openly with honour.”
Plenty of resource materials will be available at the walk as well as a package to give out to those participating in the walk. Hoping to increase the numbers to 100 from the 55 last year, Scott wants to encourage people to come out and share and support others and gain some knowledge and make new friends.
“For people with stress in their lives, it’s a good place to go and listen and talk, for sure.”