New resource launches in Sask. for people grieving from suicide loss

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“Any loss due to suicide is a tragedy” Mental Health and Addictions Minister Tim McLeod said.

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Nearly two years after families went to the Saskatchewan Legislative Building to share their stories of losing loved ones to suicide, the province announced a new resource to help ease grief and prevent future suicides.

Friends and family members of people who have died by suicide or have been significantly injured in a suicide attempt can now use free, rapid access counselling services over the phone or virtually across the province, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Tim McLeod announced Wednesday.

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Services will also be available in-person at Family Service in Regina and Saskatoon, Catholic Family Service in Prince Albert and PARTNERS Family Service in Humboldt.

“Any loss due to suicide is a tragedy, we’re certainly working hard through our provincial strategy,” McLeod said at the program launch Wednesday.

“It’s been identified that losing someone to suicide actually increases one’s risk of suicide themselves, so this is actually part of our overall suicide prevention strategy.”

The launch is part of $200,000 in new annual funding from the province to Family Service Saskatchewan to create and deliver a provincial suicide loss support program, said the a news release.

rapid access counselling
Children’s toys are seen on a shelf during a tour of the provincewide rapid access counselling program for families and friends of people who have died by suicide or survived with significant injury or trauma on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024 in Regina. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

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NDP mental health and addictions critic Vicki Mowat called it a start, but questioned how much of an impact there will be by investing only .04 per cent of the province’s mental health budget.

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“The Premier spent five times this amount on a single trip to Dubai,” Mowatt said.

The number of suicides is increasing almost every year and much more can be done to prevent them from happening, Mowat said in a written statement.

“This government has not fully implemented Doyle Vermette’s suicide prevention bill,” Mowat noted, referring to a private member’s bill initially rejected by the Saskatchewan Party in the Legislature. “They have not even implemented all of the Provincial Auditor’s recommendations from 2019. We need to be treating this crisis with the urgency it deserves.”

In May 2022, families gathered at the Legislative Building to share their struggles in accessing supports after losing loved ones to suicide. The Sask. Party had previously struck down an Opposition motion to create a bipartisan special committee to study the mental health and addictions crisis.

At the time, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Everett Hindley said the province already had a number of mechanisms and committees in place to address suicide, including Pillars For Life: The Saskatchewan Suicide Prevention Plan, which was released in 2020.

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Family Service Saskatchewan will provide referrals, counselling, navigation support, education and awareness for families and communities. The organization will also create a network families and friends can be referred to following a suicide or suicide attempt.

The rapid access counselling program is available five days a week during usual business hours, Kurt Englot, board member of Family Service Saskatchewan and CEO of Family Service Regina, said in an interview Wednesday.

Those with urgent needs can contact the 9-8-8 Suicide Crisis Helpline, which was launched in November.

Englot said people can access resources and book appointments on the Counselling Connect Saskatchewan website at any time.

“We have trained, professional counsellors who are experienced in providing grief support, who understand the unique context of suicide loss,” Englot said. “We’ll be doing grief support conversations, information that might be helpful to navigate a loss of this nature.”

A service Englot said is being “layered” into counselling sessions is the use of the interpretation service, CanTalk Canada, which has several hundred languages available.

“Let’s say it’s a telephone session, then an interpreter can be brought in to the telephone session. If it’s an in-person session, the interpreter can be brought in by telephone that way.”

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