The directors of both local schools divisions in the Battlefords felt last night’s community meeting to address recent suicides went over very well with residents.
Living Sky School Division, in partnership with Light of Christ School Division, organized the meeting in response to three students committing suicide recently; two of which occurred over the last two weeks.
Roughly 250 concerned residents filled the Don Ross gymnasium in North Battleford for the meeting. Members of local mental health units, Treaty 6 members and RCMP, to name just a few agencies, were involved in the information and support session.
Education director of Light of Christ, Corey Rideout, said he was pleased with the turnout and that those in attendance were respectful. He believed everyone walked away with meaningful information.
Director of Living Sky School Division, Brenda Vickers, said the meeting was needed after the recent tragedies.
“Parents were looking for some help, information and a place to put their fears,” Vickers said. “We thought the best approach would be to get multiple agencies together to meet with parents and say as a group of adults ‘we have to be strong so we can be strong for our kids.’ Parents are really worried and looking for ways to talk to their kids and places to go for help.”
According to Rideout, the majority of questions from those in attendance were “what can I do?” He said one woman wasn’t sure how to handle the situation as her two children were handling the events very differently. Rideout said one opened up and wanted to talk about it, while the other one didn’t.
“The panel responded and gave her some unique strategies on the best way to interact with her kids,” Rideout said.
The director wouldn’t get into the specific details of advice given out by the panel, but said the most important thing for a parent to do is to have the conversation with children.
“Don’t be afraid to have a conversation and answer questions honestly,” Rideout said. “At the same time you need to give them the space they need to reflect and process information themselves. Youth grieve different than adults and we have to understand that.”
Vickers said the panel also dispelled myths about suicide, such as talking about suicide makes the person more likely to attempt it because the idea is being put into their head. That idea couldn’t be further from the truth, according to Vickers and that is why more education is needed.
“The agencies also brought literature with them and it was telling at the end of the night when there were no pamphlets left,” Vickers said. “People were picking up the information to take with them and process at home.”
Vickers said education, mental health and RCMP officials all provide different ways to look at these situations and when they all come together, a balanced approached is be formed. She added both Mayors of Battleford and North Battleford are committed to helping as this is a community problem.
Vickers said the meeting last night was closed to media for good reasons.
“We wanted people to feel free to express themselves without fear that something they say might be reported. The meeting had to be done respectfully and in private. We are trying to encourage people to talk about it as freely as possible. We have to take these conversations out of the closet and put them on the kitchen table.”
Both directors said their school divisions want to be a part of an ongoing committee to help prevent anything like this from happening in the future and be proactive moving forward.
On Twitter @realgreghiggins
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