Suicides of young mothers leave northern Sask. community reeling

Birch Narrows First Nation and the adjoining hamlet of Turnor Lake will hold a meeting to talk about ways to help prevent suicides in the small community.

'It needs to stop now,' says Birch Narrow First Nation Chief Jonathon Sylvestre

A small northern Saskatchewan community is grieving after the recent suicides of two young mothers. A third woman has just come out of a coma after a suicide attempt.

The Birch Narrows First Nation and adjoining hamlet of Turnor Lake has a total population of less than 800 people and are located 500 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

Birch Narrows First Nation Chief Jonathon Sylvestre said everyone there needs to work to stop the recent surge in suicides and attempts. (submitted)

"It needs to stop now. We have to fight for our community," Birch Narrows Chief Jonathon Sylvestre told CBC News Monday.

Others say they're considering moving to save their children from the suicide attempts which have been accelerating in recent years.

Sylvestre and Turnor Lake Mayor René Desjarlais say the problem is complex, but agree alcohol and drugs are the common variables.

Community meeting planned

They say young people need to know they're loved and that there are people they can talk to — family, friends and health professionals.

"A lot of them just hide it and wait until it's time to explode," Sylvestre said. 

"Then when alcohol comes in to play, that's when they do these kind of things."

They're planning a community meeting and want to ask residents what they think. They'd like to decrease access to drugs and limit alcohol use.

Other northern reserves and municipalities have enacted bylaws to ban alcohol. Sylvestre and Desjarlais aren't sure laws to create a "dry" community will work.

"People make up their own minds," Desjarlais said.

"Even if we did make it a dry community, they'll find a way to get it anyway. I don't think there's any use of going down that street."

'They're family'

That said, they are determined to find solutions. The community already has mental health and addiction workers, a youth centre, new school, hockey arena and other amenities. But there's still something missing in the lives of the young people that decide to end their lives.

More support from other government levels would always help, they said.

"It's really scary. It's getting out of hand. We have to see what the community wants," Desjarlais said.

The hamlet and First Nation are different jurisdictions with different types of government support, but face many of the same issues. One of the young women who died was from Birch Narrows and the other from Turnor Lake.

"What happens to them is what happens to us," Desjarlais said. "They're family."

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.