By Dr. Evan Adams, FNHA Chief Medical Officer
In honour of World Suicide Prevention Day, September 10, 2017, we stand beside those impacted by suicide and the loved ones of those currently in crisis. We encourage all First Nations citizens and their health-care providers to stand together to raise awareness of suicide and its prevention.
As First Nations people, we acknowledge that each individual's physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being is intrinsically linked to connections with family and friends, land, culture, community and self-determination.
The root causes of suicide among First Nations and Aboriginal peoples are complex and stretch across generations: stress and low mood, made worse by poverty; historic trauma, including the intergenerational trauma of residential schools; racism; and marginalization (including living life with fewer choices).
Each of these challenges are part of a wider set of factors that affect our health and well-being known as the "social determinants of health." When these social determinants of health are poor, they can have negative effects on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. These negative effects, when passed on from one generation to the next, are called intergenerational trauma. Family can be a source of inherited trauma, but also a place where we inherit resilience.
Suicide is usually the result of a combination of these factors that are beyond a person's ability to cope with. Suicides occur more often when our people are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. They are almost always preventable through caring, compassion, intervention, commitment and community.
Breaking the cycle and mastering what seems insurmountable is possible. As Chief Medical Officer, I ask that you join me in doing three things today:
1) Take a Minute for Your Loved Ones
It starts at home. Taking a minute to learn about the signs of suicide ideation could save a life. Knowing what the signs look like in someone who is distressed and understanding the aspects of suicidality could change a life. Additionally, becoming familiar with the resources available to those in crisis is helpful to support a friend or loved one in distress. We've shared a few resources below.
Taking a minute to allow a friend or family member to express themselves could change a life. Showing empathy in this situation is important. An empathetic response serves to recognize another's perspective and remove judgment; basically, it means listen to and acknowledging emotion in someone, and communicating with them, where they're at. Empathy does not aim to resolve what is going on—it's simply connecting with someone who is in pain.
Take a minute to listen to some advice from our First Nations Elders—it could change your life.
2) Take a Minute for Your Clients
The FNHA encourages care providers in BC to learn about the impacts of colonization on mental wellness. Colonial trauma can be historic—residential schools, loss of land, attempted genocide—but it also takes place today through loss of community and individual decision-making power, systemic racism, poverty and colonial policies.
Taking a minute to learn about history and how historical trauma impacts present mental wellness could change a life. Recognizing the connection between colonization and trauma helps to contextualize the issue at hand. Recognize that many of the issues Indigenous peoples face are responses to our colonized history. This awareness holds space for us to reflect, in partnership with our clients, on the historical processes and protocols Indigenous peoples used for resilience.
We challenge all health practitioners to learn more and join the movement towards cultural humility and cultural safety in health services in BC. Find out more here.
3) Take a Minute to Care for Yourself
Finally, while it's important to care for those around you, it's equally important to take the time to care for yourself. When on an airplane, you are reminded to put your oxygen mask on first, before you try to help someone else. Remember that your own strength and well-being affect the quality of support you can provide to others.
Take a moment today to check in with yourself: am I balanced, am I ready to help someone else?
In closing, each and every one of us is loved. If you need help or suspect someone needs help, please call the KUU-US Crisis Line for culturally safe support services at 1-800-588-8717.
KUU-US Crisis Line - 1-800-588-8717.
FNHA recently partnered with KUU-US Crisis Line to provide culturally safe crisis response support services for First Nations and Aboriginal people in BC, regardless of where individuals reside in the province. Read the full release here. KUU-US is a registered non-profit charity that was established in 1993. It is an accredited agency of the American Association of Suicidology.
Hope, Help, and Healing Planning Toolkit for First Nations and Aboriginal Communities
The Hope, Help, and Healing Planning Toolkit for First Nations and Aboriginal Communities intends to support planning and developing a suicide prevention, intervention and postvention plan at the community, tribal council, Nation-based and sub-regional levels. Find it here.
A Path Forward: BC First Nations and Aboriginal People's Mental Wellness and Substance Use Ten Year Plan
In partnership with the Ministry of Health, Health Canada, the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres and the Métis Nation, the FNHA released A Path Forward: BC First Nations and Aboriginal People's Mental Wellness and Substance Use Ten Year Plan in 2013. The plan was designed in BC to better meet the needs of First Nations and Aboriginal people, from infants to Elders. The plan has triggered a coordinated effort to develop policies, mobilize resources and use best practices, and ensure people are served by efficient systems that honour the diversity of their customs, values and beliefs. The plan can support local, regional and provincial planning for better mental wellness services for First Nations peoples in BC. You can find it here.
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: www.suicideprevention.ca
Canadian Association of Mental Health: www.camh.ca/en/hospital/Pages/home.aspx
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