Dozens of students and community members marched through downtown Tuesday afternoon to end the stigma around suicide.
Community members raised signs like “Suicide Stops Here” and “Tomorrow Needs You” to build support for those affected by suicide during the walk, which began at East Three and was organized by the Mental Health and Addictions Working Group under the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority.
“You show support all the time in your day-to-day … but walking together shows how strong it is,” Melody Teddy told Inuvik Drum as she walked with some of her students who were dismissed from school early to participate.
Gwich’in Tribal Council Grand Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan told attendees at the walk’s conclusion at the Friendship Centre of her own experiences with loss as a result of suicide.
“Everyone’s been affected,” she said.
“Even though it feels there is no answer or no hope for some people, we all go through different times where we might feel that way,” she told Inuvik Drum while walking through town. “There is always someone out there. Just encourage people to reach out in those times where they do need help and support.”
At the Friendship Centre, attendees wrote the names of lost loved ones on construction paper cut into leaves, and hung the names off a potted tree near the centre of the room. Afterward, they held a candlelight vigil, where elders lit the flames of younger attendees’ candles to symbolize the value of community support.
Other participants shared their own experiences: one organizer, community health representative Crystal Navratil, recalled meeting someone through online chat and noticing he displayed some concerning behaviour. She had just taken the relevant training and he told her later that he was considering suicide and she helped him through the day.
Supervisor of community wellness Heather Wheating noted a reluctance to even use the word suicide when she worked with individuals in distress.
“People are afraid that if you talk about it, then that’s going to cause it. That’s actually not the case.”
Sharing troubling feelings and thoughts can help individuals overcome them, she said, adding “let’s talk about it and care about each other.”
For Cynthia Kiy, manager of mental health and addition, one of the things she always aims for is to help someone find a point of hope.
“It’s not the cure, but is one of the things that helps people get through the day,” she said.
“Suicide is surrounded by shame. Families who have someone who has died by suicide feel shame. People who feel suicidal feel shame about it,” Kiy said. “The shame keeps us all separate, keeps us quiet and silent, so we don’t talk about it.”
Individuals should understand that there’s help out there, and seek out support. Grade 7 student Tseada Geybeyehu agrees.
“I know people have issues … but tell somebody,” she said. “We can help you through it.”
Her friend Petra Helena echoed the sentiment, saying that while they often go unaddressed, it’s important to discuss these issues.
“You can do your part individually by helping each other, if you see someone that’s struggling, you can ask them what’s wrong,” she said.
“That’s a big a part of prevention: asking people if they’re okay and if they need anything, like any help,” Helena said.