CMHA hope to create awareness

Jacqui Williams

An event is taking place in Swift Current on World Suicide Prevention Day to create awareness about suicide prevention.

World Suicide Prevention Day is held annually on Sept. 10 to get people around the world talking about suicide and ways to save lives.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Swift Current branch is partnering with a local business, High Energy Tattoo, to hold a semicolon tattoo event on this day.

“We figured it's a good time to shed some light on the topic of suicide,” CMHA Swift Current Executive Director Jacqui Williams said. “We know of other organizations who have used this semicolon project to raise awareness not only about suicide, but also about mental health, and we thought that was a really good fit for us.”

Project Semicolon is an American non-profit organization that was started by Amy Bleuel in Wisconsin in 2013 as a tribute to her father, who died by suicide. Her advocacy was inspired by her own struggle with mental illness and the stigmas associated with it.

“She had asked people to draw a semicolon on their arm, just with a pen, to highlight suicide awareness,” Williams explained. “Her statement was always that when an author writes the sentence, they could choose to end the sentence or they can do a semicolon and the sentence goes on, and your life is a sentence. It's your choice, you're the author, to have your life continue. So that is the significance of the semicolon.”

Bleuel died by suicide in 2017, but the work of her foundation continues and the semicolon has become a symbol of hope.

“She raised so much awareness around not only issues of suicide, but also mental health struggles,” Williams said. “So it is a real nice way for us to do it to highlight that. A lot of people will choose to get the semicolon tattoo maybe to draw attention to their own struggle or it could be in support of someone that they love and care about.”

Those who want to participate in the CMHA semicolon tattoo event will have a choice between a permanent tattoo, which will be drawn by the artists of High Energy Tattoo, or a temporary tattoo by henna tattoo artist Surbhi Kalsi.

“So people can get a semicolon based tattoo that would then last up to a month,” Williams said. “It gives them the opportunity to have the conversations around suicide and mental health, but not the permanency of a true tattoo.”

A portion of the proceeds from the semicolon tattoo event will be donated to CMHA Swift Current. High Energy Tattoo will also continue the promotion throughout September and 30 per cent of all mental health themed tattoos will be donated to CMHA at the end of the month.

CMHA Swift Current is a locally governed, non-profit organization that provides supports to people who are experiencing mental illness and their families. According to Williams the semicolon tattoo event will hopefully help to get people to talk about suicide prevention.

“People do shy away from it,” she said. “It's a terrifying situation to be in, if someone discloses that they're suicidal, because it's such a serious issue, but all the facts point us to talking about it is the way to help. If people are open and disclose that they're suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, it gives them and you the opportunity to work towards resolving issues.”

An increased awareness can help people to be more aware of the signs that someone might be struggling with suicidal issues. Talking about suicide will not cause suicide, and the first step towards helping someone with suicidal thoughts is to listen to them in a respectful and compassionate way, and to support them to find help.

“Once you know or wonder if someone is suicidal, you ask directly if someone is having thoughts about suicide,” she said. “You try to contract with that person not to harm themselves, and you try to get them the appropriate help. … Talking is basically the key, even though it can be quite scary. It feels like a big responsibility, but it is a way to help people who are struggling and in the end the talking might make the difference to someone.”

According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the ninth leading cause of death in Canada. Each day there will be 10 Canadians who will end their lives by suicide and up to 200 others will make an attempt. Seven to 10 people will be profoundly affected by each suicide death. There were 3,926 suicides in Canada in 2016 and in 2015 nearly four million Canadians aged 12 and over had suicidal thoughts.

Males are three times more likely to die by suicide than females, but females are three times more likely to attempt to end their lives. Women are hospitalized 1.5 times more often than men for suicide related behaviours. Data from the Canadian Community Health Survey indicated that 14.7 per cent of Canadians have thought about suicide and 3.5 per cent have attempted suicide in their lifetime.

Suicidal thoughts are usually associated with problems that can be treated, and problems are seldom as serious as they might appear to be at first. It is therefore important not to keep suicidal thoughts to yourself, but to talk to someone about it.

“They have to find someone they trust and they have to tell that person what they're thinking, and then they'll have a problem that's shared instead of a problem that's just their own,” Williams said. “Some people are fortunate. They have lots of people that they trust and that they care about who are able to help them. Others have smaller groups that are not quite so able to take on these conversations and these discussions, but that's when help lines and the internet and those places can be very helpful. If you call a suicide hotline or even the health number, they will help you get to the people that you need to help you with any mental health issue that you're dealing with.”

The semicolon tattoo event on Sept. 10 takes place at High Energy Tattoo, which is located in downtown Swift Current at 110 Central Ave North, suite 203, Shanti Place, across the street from Sputtergotch. They will be open from 12-7 p.m. and walk ins start at 2 p.m., all first come, first serve.

Anyone who wants to schedule an appointment for a mental health themed tattoo on this day or any other day during September must contact High Energy Tattoo through their Facebook page or by calling 306-741-1996. Anyone who wants to schedule an appointment for a henna tattoo on Sept. 10 must call CMHA Swift Current at 306-778-2440.

CMHA Swift Current board members will be present at the event and information will be provided about suicide prevention. Board President Lyndsaye Greke has created a painting based on the semicolon theme, and those who participate in the event on Sept. 10 will be entered into a draw to win this art piece.

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