Greg is at the front of this on-going challenge to bring awareness, understanding and visibility to mental health issues including suicide. As Greg points out, a person needs only to look at some of the statistics associated with mental health in the workplace to realize the incredible cost and impact poor mental health has on the economy of our country.
Q: What does the business community need to know and understand about suicide and suicide prevention?
A: First, they need to know that they play a significant role in redirecting individuals who may approach them in distress. It could be a redirection to a family friend, clergy, or possibly a neighbour.
Second, they could help bring public attention to the pathways of accessing services that are in place for people that are in distress, including our helpline.
Q: What are some of the ways businesses can help their employees?
A: We provide training at the very elementary level, similar to CPR, whereby we train gatekeepers to recognize warning signs.Then we teach individual skills that could help them in a suicide intervention so they can start a conversation and help them make a connection with someone who may need help.
Q: What is the mandate of the Saint John Community Suicide Prevention committee?
A: Basically the focus and the mandate of our committee is to try to get the business community and the general public to understand that suicide is preventable and that if we make the right connections, and have the appropriate services and support, that there is help.
Q: What got you involved in suicide prevention, Greg?
A: My involvement stemmed from my early days as a proctor at Dalhousie University in the men’s residence. I noticed in the winter of 1972 that many young males attempted suicide on campus at Dalhousie following their return from Christmas break and I wondered why this was happening.
We established a suicide line in Halifax and it was at that time I realized that many people have problems dealing with stress brought on by their experiences. It was my initial introduction to the impact of mental illness on individuals, families and the community.
This experience led me to study psychology at Dalhousie University where I graduated with a bachelor of psychology in counseling, a degree in education and a Master’s degree in Social Work.
When I returned to Saint John, I was approached by the Canadian Mental Health Association and joined the board. We actually established the first suicide helpline in the city of Saint John.
Q: What is your role beyond being the chair of the committee?
A: In the initial stages I had to acquire skills to deal with suicide intervention so I became trained and now hold the designation as master trainer in suicide intervention. As a community leader, I try to bring to the public’s attention the need for suicide awareness and to reduce the stigma of mental health and mental illness.
Q: How are the people of New Brunswick impacted by suicide?
A: We’ve noticed particularly in the province of New Brunswick, that on average, 100 individuals end their life every year as a result of a very serious and persistent illness.
I’m not sure people actually commit suicide as much as the outcome of their mental illness is death. Just like a person may have a heart attack and they may die. It has been well researched and well founded here in New Brunswick that individuals who end their life have at least four or five diagnoses that have either gone untreated or the treatment wasn’t what they required.
Q: It sounds like there may be many warning signs prior to someone attempting suicide?
A: Exactly. Whether one wants to think of it as a failed treatment or failed intervention – it is often the negative outcome of a very serious and persistent mental illness and people actually die from mental illness.
Q: Statistically, how are we as a province doing with suicide prevention?
A: We’re below the national average, which is around 14.5 deaths per 100,000. The most recent NB data is from 2011. There seems to be a downward trend in the numbers. So we’re doing much better.
Q: Do you have a theories on why New Brunswick is lower that the national average?
A: I suspect it’s because we tend to reach out more – I don’t know if that’s a Maritime thing but we seem to be connected. Everyone seems to know everybody. That’s certainly a factor. Despite our failings, we do have a good breadth of service delivery across the province including addiction and mental health services both inpatient and outpatient.
We need to make suicide everybody’s business. I say that because statistics show that one in ten in the province are affected by suicide. There are 100 suicides a year and 25 to 100 attempted suicides for every suicide. You can also factor in that anywhere between six and eight people are affected by these suicides and attempts. That’s why almost one in ten individuals in the province of New Brunswick is affected by suicide. In our youth population it is the second leading cause of death.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges or frustrations in the work you do around suicide prevention?
A: Having worked for almost five decades in the field of addiction and mental health, I believe that communities have to really get on board and have a very vibrant anti-stigma campaign – one that actually validates individuals that are living with the illness rather than shun them.
Q: Tell me more about the work your committee does.
A: We have a very dynamic suicide awareness committee that’s dedicated to looking at revealing how communities can hope and how can they get help. In October, for example, through the leadership of Jeff Liberty, we brought in a former band member of Guns N’Roses.
Q: What do you do to help raise awareness of the issues surrounding suicide?
A: We normally reach out to community stakeholders and the public at large with various awareness strategies such as suicide walks. We will literally flood the province with our yellow t-shirt campaign – our theme is that people are part of the puzzle and with hope, support and a better collaborative approach we will have a more desirable outcome. Even in one’s darkest moment there is help available. We hope to transition despair into hope and help individuals find another way.
Note: The Warning Signs of Suicide (found on gnb.ca) The warning signs of suicide include: depression, loneliness, giving away prized possessions, poor performance at work or school, aggressive behaviour, mood swings, unnecessary risk-taking, threats of suicide, talking about death, abuse of alcohol or drugs and loss of interest in usual activities.
Having even one sign could mean help is necessary. Those needing help are encouraged to call CHIMO helpline at 1-800-667-5005 or Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. They can also consult their family doctor.
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As published in the May 23, 2015 Telegraph-Journal