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World Suicide Prevention Day raising awareness for mental health supports

Several events were held in the city, including the relaunching of the BeSafe app and a Choose Life Awareness Walk hosted by Nishnawbe Aski Nation.

THUNDER BAY - Isolation and disruptions to daily life during the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on people’s mental health, with youth being impacted particularly hard. Several local organizations are reaching out to create awareness regarding the services that are available to youth, including the relaunching of the BeSafe app.

“I think paying attention to everything we’ve been through the last 18 months, how people have been differently impacted, we know there has been an increase in suicidal ideation and overall levels of distress,” said Katie Matthews, mental health leader for the Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board.

“We want to make sure this isn’t something we ignore or push aside. Talking about suicide prevention and life promotion is so important in reaching not just our youth but our whole community.”

The Thunder Bay District Catholic School Board, along with Children’s Centre Thunder Bay and Dilico Anishinabek Family Care marked World Suicide Prevention Day with the relaunching of the BeSafe app for youth.

The app was first introduced in 2016 but has since undergone several changes and people are advised to download the new version for the most up-to-date information on resources that are available.

It also allows youth to create a safety plan that can be shared with friends, family, and health care professionals.

“It’s really about focusing on spreading the awareness to other partner community members so it is easily accessible and easily used as youth are travelling through the system,” Matthews said. “They can take the app with them and others will be familiar with the app as well.”

The new version of the app will also allow organizations to track how often it is being used, which Matthews said will shine more light on what has been successful, what more needs to be done, and what resources youth are accessing.

Access to services has become more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created distress, anxiety, and feelings of depression among youth.

“We are always worried about mental health, especially the mental health of our youth but COVID made it worse,” said Angela Hill, program manager with Children’s Centre Thunder Bay.

“When they did a survey of students last year, the majority of students said their mental health has deteriorated during COVID due to social isolation and not attending school. So we were already worried about the psychological distress of students.”

World Suicide Prevention Day is a chance to remind everyone, including youth, that it is okay to talk about mental health issues in order to reduce the stigma and allow people to access services.

“We have to be able to talk about it. We have to have youth feeling comfortable asking for help, and the support people they go to, they need to be able to support those youth, both professional and the people in their everyday lives,” Hill said. “That’s why it has to be okay to say: How are you? I’m worried about you. Are you thinking about hurting yourself? How can I help?”

There is also a need to reach out to those who are disproportionately affected by mental health issues and may go unheard, such as people from equity seeking groups and Indigenous people.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation hosted a Choose Life Awareness Walk on Friday as well, promoting its Choose Life program that seeks to bridge the gaps in mental health services.

“This walk is to honour those who were taken too soon by suicide and create dialogue that will help people choose life. It is inspiring to see people come together to advocate for those who may be struggling and let them know they aren’t alone. Suicide does not just impact the individual, it impacts families, friends and communities,” said Deputy Grand Chief Bobby Narcisse.

“I am incredibly proud of the work accomplished in NAN First Nations through our Choose Life program. This life-saving program is helping our First Nations communities build resiliency and pride in our children, youth and families.”

Michelle Bak, program manager with Dilico Anishnabek Family Care, said Indigenous youth were also significantly impacted by the pandemic, having been removed from their peers and social situations, which resulted in Dilico pivoting to offer more services online.

“It’s important for youth to see there are professionals, their colleagues, teachers, friends, every day people talking about mental health, raising awareness, letting them know it’s okay and these feelings are totally normal,” she said. “If you are experiencing these feelings, it’s okay, it’s normal, just reach out and get some help.”

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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