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Mounties credited with saving distraught woman

Two Nanaimo Mounties are getting credit for saving a distraught woman who tried to end her life by hanging herself.

Constables Keihin Herault and Nick Fleming, like other police officers, regularly respond to calls where despondent people threaten to end their lives. In most cases the call results in talking with people, getting them through the dark moment and convincing them to check themselves into a hospital.

But an incident in south Nanaimo one night in mid January required quick thinking and fast action.

On the way to the call, police dispatch updated information that the woman had gone into her back yard with a step ladder and electrical cord.

The RCMP is withholding information about the time and location to avoid identifying the woman.

Herault arrived first and was shocked to see and hear the suicide attempt already in progress. He had to act fast, but had to get through a locked gate to the back yard.

“For the life of me, reaching around, I couldn’t find the latch anywhere,” Herault said. “I could hear choking sounds in the back yard – like gasping and choking – I thought I need to get in there, so I kicked the fence as hard as I could.”

The fence went down, Herault spotted the woman with his flashlight, raced over, brought her down and freed her from the electrical cord.

Fleming arrived in time to help settle and secure the 53-year-old woman until paramedics arrived and took her to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

“Something like this doesn’t happen very often,” Herault said. “I really enjoyed the fact that I was able to do something tangible to make a difference. Quite often as police we’re investigating – always chasing after something, following up on information and basically looking at things after they’ve happened, so it was nice to know that I did something tangible that night and I did something to prevent anyone getting harmed.”

Both officers are being considered for awards and the woman is now recovering at home and has a second chance to move on with her life, but others have not been so fortunate.

Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman, said police are responding to dozens of calls to help people threatening and attempting suicide.

“January and February are bad months,” O’Brien said. “You get seasonal affective disorder. Then you’ve got reality setting in after Christmas. The family’s over and you’ve got everybody being loved. Then the family leaves and the problems you’ve put on the back burner are still there coupled with financial distress as well for a lot of people.”

Those factors and other pressures such as marital and custody issues, job loss, substance abuse and even expectations of New Year’s resolutions can combine to become overwhelming.

O’Brien said people described depression to him as physical pain and a black vortex they are being sucked into each day. Often families of depression sufferers will become complacent about the victim’s condition or feel unable to dissuade the individual from contemplating taking his or her life.

O’Brien said numbers of calls from people threatening suicide in Nanaimo has nearly doubled for the period from Jan. 1 to Feb. 14 since 2010 when police fielded 16 calls. In 2011 that number rose to 17 for the period, but jumped to 23 for 2012. For 2013 there have already been 27 suicide-related calls reported in Nanaimo.

“Those numbers could double because often there are families who intervene and take the husband, wife or child to the hospital,” O’Brien said. “Sometimes we don’t get involved.”

O’Brien said he personally is aware that at least five people have taken their own lives in Nanaimo in 2013.

Elizabeth Newcombe, Vancouver Island Crisis Society executive director, said hard statistics are difficult to compile.

“We know that suicide rates on the Island are high for youth,” Newcombe said. “We know that because they’re the second leading cause of death.”

Statistics are compiled through police and B.C. Coroners Service investigations which take time and make it difficult to determine year-to-year trends.

Newcombe said April to June tends to be busier, especially for calls from students, because of final exams and the approaching end of the school year.

“People deal with crisis in life all the time,” Newcombe said. “When someone’s in a black space where they’re having thoughts of suicide that could be any time for anybody.”

Newcombe said it is important to talk about suicide, break the stigma connected with it and  get people to realize there are resources they can turn to for help.

“There are mental health resources, ministry of children, the crisis line, there are people they can reach out to,” she said. “The message is that they don’t have to go it alone. (Suicide) is final. There’s no coming back from that and every life has purpose.”

People feeling overwhelmed by life’s struggles can call for help, support and resources anytime at the Vancouver Island Crisis Line, 1-888-494-3888.

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