Pubdate: Sat, 29 Jan 2005
Source: Duncan News Leader (CN BC)
Copyright: 2005 Duncan News Leader
Author: Angie Poss


Between the aisles of cereal and cookies and canned goods in Duncan's
grocery stores, Bev Williams often finds herself discussing suicide.
Sometimes she hands over her business card and encourages people to
come and see her at her office. Sometimes she answers questions and
sometimes she refers them to other people who can better help.

Williams doesn't mind the interruption of her errands. It's a good
thing, says the co-ordinator of suicide prevention programs for
Cowichan Tribes. When people stop her to ask for advice, it's a sign
that they are looking for ways to help their loved ones and themselves.

"I think our community is ready to speak about suicide. I don't think
that - I know that," said Williams, who works at the Tsewulthun Health
Centre. "It's like someone is throwing out a rope and people are
grabbing on to it."

That wasn't always the case. The change has come, in part, because of
a push by Williams and others at Cowichan Tribes to debunk some of the
misconceptions surrounding those who take their own lives.

"There's a myth that if you speak about suicide someone will attempt
it," said Williams. "That's a myth. It's not true."

One layer of suicide that is still not often discussed is the
connection to drugs and alcohol.

Substance abuse is a "significant factor" in suicides among both the
native and non-native population, according to Bob Haubrich, the
manager of crisis services and addictions for the central island.

The question that remains to be answered is just how strong that link
is. In 2003, the most recent statistics available, there were 352
alcohol and drug overdose deaths in the province. Of those, the B.C.
Coroners Service classified 94 as suicides, about one in four.

The same year, there were four drug or alcohol overdose deaths in the
Cowichan Valley - one in Cobble Hill and three in Duncan. These
numbers do not include suicides where drugs or alcohol were not the
cause of death, but might have been a contributing factor.

But even those stats can be misleading. It's often difficult for
pathologists to distinguish an accidental overdose from a suicide,
says Haubrich, leading to a lack of scientific data.

"The unfortunate part about it is we often don't know what people are
thinking," he says. "Sometimes it's accidental ... and sometimes it's
deliberate. And sometimes having a drink or drug makes it easier to

The same painful memories and feelings than lead people towards drug
and alcohol use can also lead them to thoughts of suicide. "I think
when people hit their all-time low, and that's often when they're on a
substance, that's often when they're going to attempt or complete
suicide," says Williams.

Untreated mental illness affects as many as 50 per cent of drug and
alcohol users - from the high school students smoking weed behind the
gym to the high-paid professional indulging in liquid lunches to
handle the stress, to the new mom who pops an upper to keep up with
baby's demanding schedule, suggests Margaret Hess of the Canadian
Mental Health Association.

The depressant qualities of alcohol and some drugs, can be a
contributing factor as people add chemical depressants to an already
volatile emotional state.

"If you are becoming biochemically unbalanced and you add chemicals to
the mix it can cause serious problems," said Hess. "Often people don't
want to die. It's the pain that they want to end," said Williams.

Teaching people other methods of dealing with emotional pain is the
goal of a prevention and support group started last year by Cowichan
Tribes. It includes people who have attempted suicide or have lost a
loved one to suicide. Through monthly meetings they learn to
understand their loss, recognize the warning signs of suicide and
develop skills to reach out to people in crisis. There are also
suicide prevention forums twice annually that bring together native
and non-native resources.

"A huge asset with our program is the liaisons with other groups in
the valley. That's been huge for us," says Williams. "If we save one
life out of these forums and that training ... we've done what we set
out to do."

"We want people to choose life. Death doesn't have to be an option,"
she says. "There is help here. All you have to do is knock on those
doors or dial those numbers."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin