Grand Bank signs on to national suicide prevention project after 6 deaths in 2 years

After six people in Grand Bank took their lives in the last two years, the province has announced its participation in a national suicide prevention project.

Suicide kills more Canadians each year than the opioid crisis, says head of Canadian Mental Health Commission

Natalie Randell hugs her sister, Valerie Peach, by Leonard Peach's grave. Both sisters lost their husbands to suicide in Grand Bank. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

A new, national suicide prevention project is launching on Newfoundland's Burin Peninsula after a dramatic spike in suicides in the region.

Beginning now and rolling out over the next five years, the Roots of Hope community suicide prevention project is part of a national initiative led by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

"I empathize deeply with the crisis that's happening on the Burin Peninsula," Louise Bradley, CEO of the Mental Health Commission, told a crowd in Grand Bank on Monday as the program was announced.

Louise Bradley, who is from Newfoundland and Labrador, is the President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Bradley said she lost her best friend to suicide 25 years ago.

"Those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide will always be bound by a unique brand of heartache and haunted by unanswerable questions," she said.

What you're doing here on the Burin Peninsula will have a ripple effect.- Louise Bradley

The program on the Burin Peninsula will be offered in partnership with Eastern Health and a community advocacy group from the region.

It aims to create public awareness about mental health and supports, train health care professionals in the area, and offer services such as crisis lines and support groups to people who need them.

Newfoundland and Labrador is the first province to sign on to the national project, committing to spend $1.98 million over five years.

6 suicides in 2 years, attempts still happening

In the past two years, the town of Grand Bank has lost six people to suicide.

"The suicide attempts are still happening," said Natalie Randell. She and her sister, Valerie Peach, both lost their husbands to suicide in Grand Bank last year.

"People need a place to go, and they need a voice to have and they need people to listen," Randell said Monday.

Sisters Valerie Peach, left, and Natalie Randell, right, both lost their husbands to suicide in Grand Bank last year. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

She said attempts at suicide continued even after she and Peach went public in November about their experiences and talked about the need for more mental services in the region.

"It's our youth, it's our adults," she said. "I've spoken to a few women and men who are still having difficulties with [mental health] and they're not really quite sure as to where to go."

Peach said since the sisters told their story to CBC News, she has received countless messages from people about their own struggles with mental health.

Monday's announcement about the new programs gave her hope, she said.

"I realize that this is all going to be implemented over a five year period and of course Newfoundland being the first to be on board with this, that is going to take some time and some tweaking … but in these small communities these resources and this program is very much needed."

Killing more Canadians than opioid crisis

In addition to offering services to people in crisis, the program will offer supports to family and friends who have been affected by suicide — people such as Randall, Peach and their families.

It's estimated that each suicide directly impacts 25 other lives "in a devastating way," Bradley told the Grand Bank crowd Monday afternoon.

Valerie Peach, whose husband took his life in Grand Bank last year, sits in the crowd at the government's Roots of Hope announcement Monday afternoon. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

She also said that the crisis on the Burin Peninsula isn't isolated.

While the opioid crisis killed over 2,500 Canadian last year, she said, more than 4,000 Canadians die each year by suicide.

And those numbers only reflect those people whose deaths have been reported as suicides. She said many more go unreported.

Bradley said other countries who have adopted programs similar to Roots of Hope have seen their suicide rates decline by as much as 20 per cent over two years, and she hopes other provinces follow Newfoundland and Labrador's lead and sign on to the initiative.

"What you're doing here on the Burin Peninsula will have a ripple effect that will touch Canada from coast to coast to coast." she said.