Young people band together to prevent suicide

By Anna Burgess and Jen Garceau
Port Hardy Secondary School
Port Hardy, British Columbia

Suicide is evident in high schools all across Canada. It devastates the student body, leaving an impact on everyone.

"The effects of suicide are immediate, intense, sometimes contagious and definitely everlasting," comments Mr. Oliphant, vice principal at Port Hardy Secondary School.


Colin Mullett, a student at Port Hardy Secondary, agrees.

"Suicide leaves a devastating impact on the entire community. It causes a domino effect, and it is something that is impossible to forget," says Mullett.

It is important to realize that there is no single sign that depicts a person as suicidal, but if someone talks or jokes about killing themselves, there is a good chance they aren't joking. Other signs that you can look for in friends and yourself include: an increased or heavy use of drugs and alcohol, reckless behaviour or acting as if life does not matter, writing a will and giving away treasured possessions, evidence of self-mutilation, a strong interest in death and a lack of interest in previous favourite activities.

 In most cases, there are reasons why people feel suicidal. Often events that are taking place in their life effect how a person feels emotionally. Problems with school or the law; a breakup of a romance, an unexpected pregnancy or a death of a family member are just a few emotional traumas that could cause people to feel hopeless.

If a person has been suicidal in the past and aren't acting like themselves, action should be taken immediately. Pressure is known to be one of the main contributors to depression. If a friend is dealing with a large amount of pressure, help them out; talk to them, but more importantly, listen to what they have to say.

If a person notices these signs in a friend, they should ask them about it. What a suicidal person really needs is to have someone listen to them. According to the British Columbia Council for the Family, teens often need to be convinced that someone really cares before they open up and talk about their feelings. If they do open up, it is important not to offer solutions or tell them that they are in a better situation than some people.

Stacey Nielsen from the Port Hardy Crisis Centre has some advices for teens who are feeling suicidal.

"It's important to speak-up and make contact with someone you are comfortable with. Reach out for support," says Nielson.

Many teens believe that the unhappiness they're feeling is a permanent condition. They do not believe that anyone can help them or that they have the ability to change their lives. Teens who are contemplating suicide usually do not want to kill themselves. They want to end their pain and are trying to tell others that they need help.

Nielsen says that it is valuable to be educated on suicide, whether or not one is feeling suicidal. There are many documents about suicide - your local Crisis Centre and counsellors' office at school carry various pamphlets and books. The Internet is another resource, where people can obtain information anonymously.

Suicide is an issue that everyone must deal with. It affects all sorts of people, and it is important for people to educate themselves about it.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is an organization that attempts to prevent teen suicide. Grade 10 peer counsellors Jennie Mitchell and Jen Garceau, have been trying for the past two years to implement the program at PHSS.

The Yellow Ribbon Program distributes pocket sized cards, hoping to empower and encourage teens to seek help in times of a crisis. A youth can give the card to someone they can trust when they need to talk. The back of the card explains to the person receiving it how to respond and help. The cards are free and anyone can have them.

Mitchell and Garceau say that they hope to get the program running during the first week of the new semester, when cards will be available at various locations in the school and the community such as the counsellors' office, local churches and doctors' offices.

If someone hands you receive a Yellow Ribbon Card, it is important to understand that this is a cry for help. Take the person seriously, and make the time to listen to what they have to say. Let the person know that you are there for them and are willing to help. You could offer to go to the counsellors with them, the doctors office or talk about it with their parents. Do not laugh or act as if they are joking. Remember that they may be in severe depression or believe that things are hopeless.

If a person is acting as if they are in danger of harming themselves, do not leave them alone. Also do not be judgmental, or act as if they do not know what they are talking about. Find out if they if they have any specific plans surrounding their potential suicide. If so they are probably at a greater risk of danger.

Garceau and Mitchell read about the Yellow Ribbon program in the book, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, and their interest escalated from there. Both girls have been to various suicide training sessions and been taught how to handle these difficult types of situations. "To reach or help someone with suicidal thoughts is my goal for the program," comments Mitchell.

Facts on Teen Suicide

All over the world, suicide is an escalating problem; worldwide suicide causes more deaths than traffic accidents. Teenagers, parents, the elderly, and even children are suffering from the consequences of suicide related tragedies. It may be hard to believe, but at least 70% of Canadian high school students have seriously considered suicide and the amount of suicide deaths today is at least three times as high as it was in the eighties.

Experts are not even sure about the exact number of teen suicides, since some deaths that are thought to be accidental could be suicides. The saddest thing is that 95% of all youth suicides are thought to be preventable, as most teens who commit suicide don't really want to die, they just want their pain to end. According to the BC Council for Families, 80% of the time people who commit suicide had given some kinds of signals beforehand.

Even on Vancouver Island the suicide rate is climbing steadily. According to the Chief Coroner's 1997 Annual Report, in 1988 there were 80 suicide related deaths, but more recent statistics show about 120 deaths being the results of suicide on Vancouver Island. There are many reasons that these numbers could be rising. Drug abuse which can cause major depression is also increasing, and there are other serious factors that are causing suicide rates to rise. On the North Island the amount of jobs are decreasing from loss of resources, causing a major source of depression.

With evidence that suicide is becoming more prevalent, hopefully people will be encouraged to educate themselves and will take the necessary steps to protect themselves from resorting to such drastic measures.