Christmas offers most people a happy time but it’s the couple of months following that can take an emotional toll.
Staff at the Suicide Information & Education Services are working hard to ensure the community knows about the services they offer – not only during and after the holidays but all year through.
Mary Dawn Eggelton, youth education coordinator, does presentations at 274 schools across the region to students from early elementary to high school age.
“I speak to the students and we offer them support. We also offer an confidential online support service,” she said. “Adults are accessing it as well.”
As to the holiday season, she said youth can feel a significant sense of ‘let down’ following the busyness of Christmas holidays. It can heighten a sense of depression and vulnerability, she said.
The holidays can also be particularly hard for those who have lost someone to suicide, added Laura MacNeill, executive director.
“As you come up to the anniversary dates and the various holidays, that can be very challenging – whether it’s Christmas, birthdays or anniversaries. Our group is really working on these tough times and how to help people manage those. It’s really about building a support system.”
It’s also important to keep the lines of communication open.
“When someone dies from suicide, typically people become afraid to talk about it. You don’t get the same reaction as when a (loved one) dies from something else. We as a society need to be comfortable in holding and hugging that person the same regardless of how their loved one has died. And to be comfortable in talking about it.”
Eggelton agreed. “If more people are more open talking about it, those (considering suicide) will be open to seeking help.”
As for her ongoing work with youth, she finds the early part of the year to be an especially busy time.
“I find that during January and February I tend to get some really high needs schools. Last year, February was very hard,” she said.
“My presentations are very interactive. I will have kids that will break down, so we need to then make sure they get their support. I really try to make a personal connection with each kid in the presentation. That way, if things are bugging them, we can really address it.”
With the early elementary age, presentations focus on talking about feelings.
At the Grade 6 level, the conversation is about bullying. Grade 9 students learn about healthy dating relationships and Grade 7 students learn all about handling stress.
“Actually, my first stress presentation is at Grade 4, and then my really in-depth one is during Grade 7.”
At that point, she also discusses the physiological impact stress has on the body and coping mechanisms.
“The high school material is also all about suicide prevention.”
MacNeill emphasized the ultimate goal is for people to be mindful of how they are feeling throughout the year.
“If we have support systems in place, know who to access in the community, know who we can safely turn to, then we can handle the different seasons and events that happen in our lives.
“Our goal is to have healthy children who grow into healthy adults – getting that cycle going in a positive direction.”
Besides a focus on the younger set, the agency also offers adult education programs. ‘Blueprint for Success’ is a men-at-risk program designed for men working in the industry and trade sectors. It addresses mental health issues such as depression these jobs can bring.
Sadly, sometimes there aren’t many signs that a person plans to take his or her own life.
As Eggelton pointed out, about 80% of the time there are warning signs.
“For youth it’s much higher – about 95% of the time.” But when there aren’t any signs, it can be because the individual has already decided to commit suicide and so has arrived at a place of peace. They can seem better because they’ve come to a place of resolution.
Common warning signs, however, include when someone starts giving things away, tidying up their affairs, talking about death, showing a significant increase in stress, or increasingly turning to alcohol or drugs.
“The number one red flag is hopelessness.”
Friends and family would do well to always follow up when they see such signs, she said.
Meanwhile, the agency is holding a fundraising raffle.
“All the proceeds go back to our youth programs in Central Alberta,” said MacNeill, adding that the Centre is a not-for-profit charitable organization with limited government funding.
Tickets are $5 with the grand prize being a two-night stay for two at the Smokey Bear Campground resort, second prize is three hours of free ink time with Art & Soul Tattoo and third prize a one-hour session with Hazzardous Material Photography.
MacNeill said the raffle serves as the agency’s main fundraiser of the year.
Also coming up is the Decadent Dessert Night on Dec. 14 at the Red Deer Rebels game.
That particular fundraiser has been held for 19 years.
For more information about the raffle or about the services provided by Suicide Information & Education Services, call 403-342-4966.
The draw date is Dec. 21.