'It's such a lonely loss': Northern Sask. families affected by suicide call for more open discussion

They’ve lost uncles, brothers, step-fathers and children as young as 12 years old, but these families affected by suicide still have hope.

Family members on 240-kilometre trek to raise awareness

Family members of people who took their own lives in northern Saskatchewan march for healing, hope and better resources. (Submitted by Linda Roberts)

They've lost uncles, brothers, step-fathers and children as young as 12 years old, but they still have hope.

A group of families affected by northern Saskatchewan's suicide crisis are marching from Prince Albert to La Ronge to send a message to the people in their communities.

They want them to know they are loved, that things can change and that they have support.

"This walk is one of the first steps we are taking to healing," said Linda Roberts, whose 14-year-old daughter took her own life in October last year.

"We need to send out more awareness to our young people, show them that we love them, care for them, we're here for them."

Walk for awareness

Having started on Friday, the group is walking some 240 kilometres over about five days to show how much they care for the lives of people in their communities.

In October and November last year, six girls aged between 10 and 14 took their own lives during a suicide crisis in northern Saskatchewan. 
People came together in La Ronge, Sask. last year for a vigil in memory of three young girls. (Don Somers/CBC)

Sally Ratt, whose 12-year-old daughter took her own life during that time, said more mental health workers were brought into her community of Stanley Mission after the crisis.

"[Governments] wait for stuff to happen before they send extra help," said Ratt.

The Ministry of Health said additional mental health therapists who were called in from other health regions during last year's crisis have since returned to their home regions.

It said the level of services provided by the Mamawetan Churchill River Regional Health Authority had remained the same since the crisis. The ministry said it could only speak for the level of provincially-funded services and not for those funded by local governments or by Health Canada.

At least three people have taken their lives in northern communities in recent weeks, and there are reports of multiple attempts in the La Loche area.

Ask for help, says organizer

March organizer Kimberley Michelle Beatty, who is from Montreal Lake Cree Nation, lost her brother, uncle and stepfather to suicide.

She also struggled with depression and went through a period of addictions and self-harming.

Beatty wants people who are going through similar experiences to know they are not alone.

"There's lots of people that go through the same thing and as much as it is hard to speak up and say that you need help, it's not something to be afraid of or ashamed of," she said.

The group also has a message to governments and to the wider public: don't sweep the issue of suicide under the rug.

"Suicide is not spoken about," said Roberts.

"It's such a big part of … it's such a lonely loss. It's hard dealing with suicide."

More open discussion needed: mom

Ratt agrees that a more open discussion would help communities dealing with losses from suicide.

"I think suicide needs to be brought more out in the open because it is put on the back shelf too much," said Ratt.

The Ministry of Health currently funds Saskatoon-based psychiatrist Dr. Sara Dungavell to visit La Loche, La Ronge and Stony Rapids to provide in-person services three days per month.

The province said she will also run follow-up clinics through remote technology when a new psychiatry service line is implemented in the next few months.

It provides funding for northern child psychiatry services one day a month to La Ronge through the Saskatoon Health Region, which also runs follow-up clinics.

In 2017-18, it said it had provided funding for the creation of culturally appropriate initiatives and to build on local programs, and for a mental health first aid course for professionals who come into contact with youth who struggle with mental health and addictions.

"These initiatives will support the mental health and addictions action plan recommendations, building on existing programs that recognize the importance of healthy families and communities, and positive environments, to reduce the incidences of suicide," said the province in a written response to questions.

If you need help

Mental health resources are available through the HealthLine at 811.

The federal government set up a toll-free number for First Nations and Inuit people who are experiencing mental health issues: 1-855-242-3310. 

If you're worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Here are some of the warning signs: 

  • Suicidal thoughts.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Purposelessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Feeling trapped.
  • Hopelessness and helplessness.
  • Withdrawal.
  • Anger.
  • Recklessness.
  • Mood changes.