Local professionals and people impacted by suicide honour World Suicide Prevention Day

By Aaron Mahoney (@Mahones93 on Twitter)
September 11, 2017 - 2:07pm

LETHBRIDGE - World Suicide Prevention Day took place Sunday, but a crowd gathered at the Lethbridge Public Library on Monday to talk about the issue of suicide in the community.

The Community Interagency Suicide Prevention Council (CISP) has been hostin its Honouring World Suicide Prevention Day event for eight years now, with the first taking place back in 2010.

Each year the CISP brings in a variety of speakers, both professional presenters and people with personal stories to tell, on the topic of suicide prevention.

Brad Moser, a CISP member and registered psychologist and family counsellor, says throughout the eight years the event has had a pretty powerful impact on those in attendance.

"We've had people tell us that it's been amazing, and very helpful, especially those impacted by suicide personally. Our whole purpose is to reach out to people in Lethbridge, and stand against suicide and work on suicide prevention as a community," said Moser.

Dealing with suicide is a big issue for communities across the country, and Moser says that's no different here.

"As the population grows and the city gets bigger, the chances of someone committing suicide grows. The High Level bridge is a big site for suicides unfortunately due to it's height," he said.

Suicide is a difficult subject for many people to talk about, and on a bigger scale it's a bit of a taboo issue to talk about openly in society today according to Moser, but he believes that has to change.

"The whole purpose of this is to make people comfortable to talk about the issue, or at least be able to listen to other people talk about suicide. Even if they just come and attend a couple of the presentations, it could go a long way," Mosher concluded.

One of the first speakers today was Dr. Robin Gibb, an associate professor at the University of Lethbridge on the Neuroscience of Suicide.

Gibb began her presentation by sharing a couple of statistics, including that suicide is one of the leading causes of death across all age spectrums and that the World Health Organization believes that suicides account for nearly 100,000,000 deaths a year.

She broke down the three parts of the brain most involved in how a person lives.

"The prefrontal cortex, which is connected to a person's emotional centre, also selects behaviors appropriate for certain times and places, affects decision making and interprets situations. The amygdala, which plays a role in emotional behaviours and the hippocampus which consolidates memories and deals with stress," Gibb said.

There are a number of ways to help prevent mental illness, and suicide. "Stable relationships is important, well established social networks and dependable finances. People need to be in a solid place to be able to deal with adversity, and they also need to know that help is available through friends, therapists and counsellors should an issue arise," finished Gibb.

Next up to speak was Alison Lux, a mental health therapist with Alberta Health Services.

Lux goes to schools around the area to run programs that deal with social skills and worries in young people. She believes that it's imperative at a young age for kids to build up resiliency to protect them as they get older.

"Kids deal with a lot at a young age, going to school, homework, lack of sleep, performance in sports or the arts, so they need to build that resilience ," Lux said.

So what does that mean? It means building strong relationships with family, friends, at school and in the community.

Lux outlined a few ways kids can do that.

"Helping others is a big one, volunteering at home, school or in clubs. It's also a good thing to help kids set up goals and aspirations for their lives, whatever those may be, and help them on the path to achieving them," Lux continued to say.

The other important thing Lux wanted to convey to the audience was the important of helping kids have a positive view of the world.

"They have to be able to see the good in day to day experiences, and learn that challenges in life help to teach us about ourselves . Celebrate accomplishments, even small ones, and try to have as much fun as you can. Building resilience helps to decrease the risk of depression, and protect youth. Young people with better resiliency skills are better equipped to cope with hardships," Lux said.

The last speaker before lunch was Valerie Furgason, a mother who had lost a son to suicide.

Furgason's son Michael took his life in 2010, but she spoke about her own issues with mental illness from much earlier in her life.

At the age of 15, Furgason says she ate a whole bottle of pills, threw them up but never reached out for help. She raised she daughter as a single mother until 1991, until she married Michael's father. Michael was born in 1992, but then Furgason began dealing with addiction in 1993.

She started drawing as a way to cope, something that Michael would start to do with her as he got older.

"Then in 2005, I started to notice some changes in his behaviour and I later found out that he had been trying drugs. In 2008, Michael and his father moved to Sherwood Park. In 2009, he started to openly speak about suicide because of his issues," Furgason said.

She believes that her lack of knowledge about the issue at the time caused her to not be able to help her son enough.

Michael was found at the High Level Bridge by police in 2010, and was brought to the hospital.

While there, his mother and sister came to visit him. With the OK of the hospital they stepped outside to have a smoke, but Furgason thought it would be to a contained zone.

"I was scared when I saw Michael walk out of the hospital, and the first thought I had was panic. I didn't want to let on to him that I was nervous. But then he ran away from the hospital, and was later found dead. Furgason says he was constantly battling against suicide and mental illness and has taken a much more vocal stance on the issue since then.

She ended with a powerful message to those in attendance: "Don't let anyone tell you to be silent on the issue of suicide, because it could be your voice that helps save someone's life in the future".

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