When Heather Owen lost a close friend to suicide 18 years ago, she was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt as well as sadness and grief.
“When it’s someone you’re close to, you feel that you should have seen something, should have known something, done something to change it,” she said. “It was devastating. There’s so many unanswered questions.”
Six years after her friend’s death, she began volunteering with the Vancouver Island Crisis Society (formerly the Central Vancouver Island Crisis Society until the group signed a deal in 2010 to provide services Island-wide) to answer some of these questions.
And after a dozen years with the society, Owen, now the society’s promotions and community relations coordinator, has talked to thousands of suicidal people, both on the phone and face-to-face.
“I hear a lot of stories about people who have worked their way through it or are still in a dark place,” she said. “Suicide is one of those things – your brain doesn’t automatically go there. It’s like turning on a light, once you’re aware.”
The society is honouring World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10) by offering suicide awareness and response workshops in five Island communities, including Nanaimo, and a suicide bereavement workshop in Nanaimo.
The Nanaimo workshops take place on Thursday (Sept. 13).
Owen said the workshops are for everyone – she wishes she’d attended a similar workshop and been able to recognize what her friend was going through before it was too late.
The workshops outline warning signs and dispel common misconceptions, such as that saying the word suicide could plant the idea in someone’s head.
“That’s not what happens,” said Owen. “Suicidal people need to talk. Listening is the key – you don’t need the answers. We all have our own answers inside of us.”
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the world and the B.C. Coroners service reports that between 1998 and 2008 on the Island, a minimum of 1,109 people died by suicide.
Since going Island-wide more than two years ago, the crisis line receives about 30,000 calls annually, and seven per cent of those calls last year and the year before were related to the topic of suicide, she said.
“We can’t prevent all suicides, but certainly by educating ourselves … maybe we can lend the hand that gets them through that really dark place,” said Owen.
The suicide awareness response workshop takes place Thursday (Sept. 13) from 9 a.m. to noon at the crisis society’s headquarters, 30-1708 Bowen Rd. The bereavement workshop takes place from 1-4 p.m. at the same location Thursday.
Cost of the workshop is $25, which is donated to the United Way in each workshop community. Registration is required and can be done by calling 1-877-753-2495.
The crisis line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-888-494-3888. People are urged to call before life gets so overwhelming that suicide is considered.
For more information on the workshops or the society, please go to www.vicrisis.ca.