‘Connect with some community and some hope’

Winnipeg Suicide Prevention Network to host community gathering

The Winnipeg Suicide Prevention Network (WSPN) hopes to raise suicide awareness through a community gathering on Sept. 8 at the Norwood Community Centre. The event is scheduled to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10.

Approximately 215 people in Manitoba died by suicide between 2015 and 2021, according to provincial health data. The WSPN is among local organizations hoping to help people contemplating suicide and educate about suicide warning signs.

The network includes professionals who work in fields related to suicide prevention, as well as other people who share this goal.

WSPN helps fund organizations that directly support people at risk for suicide or host events helping people talk about suicide, Curt Sparkes, co-chair of the WSPN and volunteer coordinator at Klinic Community Health, says.

This year, the community event’s theme is Life Promotion Through Hope and Renewal Through Nature. Organizers hope this event, which incorporates activities involving trees, will encourage participants to connect with nature.

Sparkes says he hopes the event will help people find strength when dealing with any overwhelming feelings. He also hopes the event can be a source of community support for people who have been affected by suicide.

For many people, seeking community can be tough. Conversations surrounding mental health have shifted over the years, Vycki Atallah, a public-education coordinator at Klinic, says. However, stigma surrounding suicide, depression and self-harming behaviours may prevent some people from reaching out.

“We want to normalize seeking help, (and) we also want folks to see warning signs as invitations to ask without judgement and try to link folks to ongoing support,” she says. Warning signs of suicide can include withdrawal from family or friends, excessive drinking or drug use and giving away formerly treasured possessions.

Klinic offers ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) programming, a two-day course that helps participants practise suicide-prevention strategies. Atallah is one of the two ASIST trainers.

“I think having a World Suicide Prevention Day is important to mark that occasion, and I ... feel that we should be able to talk about this all year-round as much as we can,” she says.

Although the topics of suicide and prevention can feel intense for people, Sparkes urges those struggling to consider attending the community event.

“I would really invite folks to maybe take a bit of a risk and come on down and join us and fight through any of those feelings ... and to connect with some community and some hope,” he says.

The event takes place at 87 Walmer St. and begins at 9:30 a.m. It will include light refreshments, mental-health speakers, a tree-potting station, an art station and an opportunity to try tonglen, a Buddhist meditation practice.

Anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts can call the Manitoba Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-877-435-7170 or the Klinic Crisis Line at 1-888-322-3019. The Crisis Response Centre at 817 Bannatyne Ave. accepts walk-ins and is open 24/7.

U of W students who need non-emergency mental-health supports can contact Student Wellness at 204-258-3809 to schedule a counselling appointment.

Published in Volume 78, Number 01 of The Uniter (September 7, 2023)

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