Nova Scotia

Eskasoni Crisis Centre extends hours, services after rash of deaths in community

The Eskasoni Crisis Centre is expanding its hours and services following a rash of deaths in the First Nations community.

'The suicides were impacting everybody,' says centre's team lead

The Eskasoni Crisis Centre was established in 2009 after a similar rash of suicides. (Holly Conners/CBC)

The Eskasoni Crisis Centre is expanding its hours and services following a rash of deaths in the First Nations community.

Eskasoni's chief held a news conference in mid-January, appealing for government support in the wake of a number of "expected and unexpected" deaths in the region's largest Mi'kmaq community.

The chief would not say how many people had died, but CBC learned that three people had died by suicide over a period of several weeks in late 2018 and early 2019.

"It was devastating," said Jeannine Paul, the team lead at the crisis centre.

The centre was established in 2009 after a similar rash of suicides.

Paul said crisis centre staff were overwhelmed with calls and appointments from people looking for help in January.

'Triggered certain emotions, thoughts, feelings'

"The suicides were impacting everybody," said Paul.

She said a number of calls were from people who had contemplated suicide in the past, and wanted to reach out for support.

"It triggered certain emotions, thoughts, feelings [in the community]," said Paul.

Jeannine Paul is the team lead at the Eskasoni Crisis Centre. (Submitted/Jeannine Paul)

Paul said crisis centre staff worked long hours, up to 16 hours a day in some cases, to keep pace with the demand. "Our staff was on the verge of burnout."

But she said a clinical therapist was available for staff debriefing, and the crisis centre workers pulled together to look after the community.

"Thankfully, they got the help they needed."

Paul said the crisis centre has since made some changes to ensure that support is ongoing. She said some staff have adjusted their hours, so they're available in the evenings.

Staff are also attending weekly court in Eskasoni to offer support and on-site referrals to people who are facing charges.

"They're just there to show their faces and that to show that we care and we're there for people," said Paul.

Biggest need is funding, says Paul

She said some of the people who died by suicide were awaiting court dates.

The centre is also planning other community initiatives, including a suicide survivors support group and a suicide prevention program for local schools.

Paul said the biggest need now is for permanent funding for the crisis line, which is currently funded by the band and "up in the air."

"Sustainable funding would be amazing because it's something the community needs and I think it's something the community will always need."

With files from Cape Breton's Information Morning