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Suicide Awareness Conference took place at Geneva Park on Thursday

Andrew Philips

By Andrew Philips, Special to Postmedia Network

ANDREW PHILIPS/SPECIAL TO POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Dr. Glenn Robitaille, director of ethics and spiritual care at Waypoint Centre Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, said it's better to discuss suicide with someone you're worried about rather than avoid the topic.

ANDREW PHILIPS/SPECIAL TO POSTMEDIA NETWORK Dr. Glenn Robitaille, director of ethics and spiritual care at Waypoint Centre Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, said it's better to discuss suicide with someone you're worried about rather than avoid the topic.

The teenage years can already be a trying time.

But when emotional and mental-health stressers are thrown into the mix some youth consider suicide as a means to get away from real and, sometimes, perceived troubles.

Dr. Petra Gyles, a psychologist with the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board, said she regularly encounters students who want to throw it all away due to a slight or hardship.

"A month is a really long time in the life of a 15-year-old," Gyles said, noting that while an adult will likely realize that life often has ups and downs, a youth with a still developing brain sometimes can't imagine getting beyond a low point.

"A few months of going through extreme hardship... that's their entire world. A year is forever. Their brains are constantly changing."

On Thursday, Gyles joined about 200 other area health, education and social-service professionals along with consumers and family members to attend the 23rd annual Suicide Awareness Conference of Simcoe Muskoka at Geneva Park.

Dr. Glenn Robitaille, director of ethics and spiritual care at Waypoint Centre Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, said part of the stigma surrounding suicide revolves around people's reluctance to confront someone who might be living on the edge.

"When a person gets to that place, it (suicide) is an option," Robitaille said, adding it's OK to ask that person if he or she is thinking about suicide as a means of escape.

"People sometimes worry about asking someone if they're feeling suicidal because they don't want to push them towards it. But I'll guarantee you if they're in clinical depression, that's already entered their mind."

Robitaille said it's essential for others to listen for clues that someone's going through a particularly troubling time.

"You never know the whole story about a person's experiences," he said. "When I was young, if you had a bully, that bully had a bully. It's like the big fish eats the little fish eats the littler fish."

The day-long event featured a number of seminars dealing with various aspects of suicide, prevention and warning signs, including Robitaille's presentation entitled Life Journeys: Reclaiming Life after Loss.

And with an estimated 4,000 Canadians killing themselves annually, attendee Susan Plewes said the conference continues to be an important resource.

"It's so important for people to understand why some end up coming to this conclusion (suicide)," said Plewes, a board member of both Waypoint and the Canadian Mental Health Association's Simcoe County branch.

"Where can we better and help each other? That's how we evolve. Let's start talking."

Christine Fuller, a mental health and community wellness worker with the Chippewas of Rama First Nation, said younger children can sometimes say things non-chalantly without really considering the consequences of their potential actions.

As an example, Fuller recounted a story relating to two children she worked with who each said, 'I am going to kill myself.'

While the threat can strike fear in many parents and teachers, Fuller said she asked both children if they understood the potential gravity of their actions.

"'When you do die or hurt yourself, you hurt others,'" she recalled telling them, noting both children didn't fully appreciate that killing themselves would result in a permanent consequence because they wanted to go to school the next day for a special event.

"I don't really think they have the grasp of that kind of language."

Added Gyles: "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

andrewphilips@live.ca



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