On March 22nd I had the opportunity to speak on a panel for Town Hall Meeting: Children Only Have One Childhood – The Need for a National Suicide Prevention Action Plan & First Nations Equity. Getting to hear from Charlie Angus, MP for Timmins-James Bay, and the other panellists was such an educational experience, and I’m honoured to have been given the chance to speak. I learned a lot about current resources in place, and where we as a nation are still lacking. Unfortunately, I was not surprised when hearing of the unacceptable conditions many communities are in, however, I hope everyone who attended has been as inspired as I was to help make the change our country needs to make. Canada is in dire need of a National Suicide Prevention Action Plan, and it is unacceptable that we are the only G8 country without one. Here is a transcript of the speech I shared with everyone during the meeting.
“Hello everyone, I am honoured to be here tonight, discussing an issue that has affected not only my community and those surrounding, but in my own home as well. My name is Aleria, I am eighteen years old, and I am a suicide attempt survivor. It breaks my heart thinking about what would happen if I had succeeded, however, I am here, and I promised myself that I will do what I can to help those who are in similar situations as I once was.
In January of this year, I earned myself the title of Miss Teenage Ontario with my platform of raising awareness for youth suicide on reserves. In August, I will be competing for the title of Miss Teenage Canada where I am hoping to gain a national platform to spread my message of hope amidst a world that often seems to have none left. I also had the opportunity to be the playwright for my schools annual NTS Drama Festival entry. The play is about a young girl growing up on reserve, who has to deal with the suicide of her older sister. So far, we have advanced to the regional festival, and have been invited to perform our show at a number of schools, including Brock University. I am very happy we have been able to reach as many people as we have, and share our message while raising awareness for this evergrowing issue.
I can’t express how earth shattering it is to grow up in a place where suicide is far to frequent among our young people, almost common. Growing up I watched my brother experience losing friends and classmates to suicide, hearing his anger and disbelief, not knowing that one day I would grow up to face the same issues, going to funerals for those in close proximity and age.
One of the main problems I find when these events happen, is the effect it has on the youth who are left. The Werther Effect states that publicized suicides may serve as a trigger for the next suicide by a suggestible person. So many of our youth are already susceptible to suicidal behaviours thoughts, or ideation, when we glorify those who do die by suicide, it creates a dangerous message to send to the next generations. It suggests that lives ended by suicide are more important than anything you could have done on this earth. We need to tell our young people that they are important. That their lives are worth something. In the words of poet William Giles, “If we can give each other permission to die, we can give each other permission to live”. We need to do better.
As a young person who was raised in an environment in which suicide is not uncommon, I can easily recount the hopelessness of receiving a message from someone informing me of yet another childhood friend or classmate who had passed. Seeing a child in a casket is a feeling I would never wish upon anyone. My message is simple. Look through the darkness because, there is always hope.
Despite the pain and loss and hardship we all face, there is a tomorrow as long as you let it happen. No matter how alone you may feel, there is always somewhere you can go. When I was going through hard times I was extremely blessed to have an incredible support system within my family, however, I know not everybody has that. There are always other resources one can reach out to, and we need to make those resources readily available and genuine.
Real mental health training for emergency responders. I’ve run into nurses, doctors and paramedics who were angry with me, telling me to calm down, who seemed irritated with me or suggested I was fine. I don’t mean to generalize by any means because I also have had some truly incredible health care providers. As well, teaching those who are on the front lines of giving mental health services that providing self care is incredibly valuable to being able to serve others. Giving understanding to people who are in those destructive situations, that they are not a name in a system, but they are going through the steps to give them the help they need. That there is no shame in mental health issues. That they are never alone.
I want to end with this. The lives that are lost to suicide and their worth in our world is not up for debate. Simply stated, one life lost to suicide is one too many. These lives are not statistics, these lives are not stories, these lives are not politics. They were lives. They were breathing, living people, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles and it is our job to do what we can and change things for the future generations. Thank you all.
I got to speak to many people afterwards, and I am looking forward to the events and appearances I have been invited to speak at in the coming months. Thank you for reading!
Til Next Time