Mark Davidson, superintendent of Medicine Hat Public School Division, addresses those gathered at the Conversation on Loss, Suicide and Self Harm held in Eresman Theatre at Medicine Hat College on Thursday. Behind him from left to right is Dr. Reagan Weeks – superintendent for Prairie Rose Public Schools, Hugh Lehr, associate superintendent learning services with the Medicine Hat Catholic Board of Education, Jeney Gordon, principal of CAPE School, Inspector Joe West, Medicine Hat Police Service, Breanne Mellen, suicide prevention program coordinator with the Canadian Mental Health Association, and Heather Woodward, manager of child, youth, family and prevention services, addictions and mental health with Alberta Health Services. — PHOTO COURTESY OF MEDICINE HAT PUBLIC SCHOOL DIVISIONSAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Eresman Theatre at Medicine Hat College was about two-thirds full, with more people attending virtually, for the Conversation on Loss, Suicide and Self Harm. The evening was not about finding a magic solution but about learning about what can be done to help and begin building strategies.

More than 70 individuals completed a survey prior to the event. Mark Davidson, superintendent of Medicine Hat Public School Division explained prior to the event that “people shared with us the things they were most concerned about. Things they think we, as school jurisdictions, because all three local school jurisdictions are represented here, and community supports can do differently or better in order to take care of children and families.”

Sean O’Grady, a mental health clinician, talked about how the human brain automatically jumps into problem solving mode or wants to avoid the topic. Often, the best thing to do is counterintuitive to that and involves simply listening without shutting down the conversation by providing solutions.

More than one speaker talked about how the words we say are less important than how we say them, our body language – including facial expressions – and how we make the other person feel during the conversation. The key is to remain present for your child, to bring others along so you aren’t struggling alone. Additionally, to remain vulnerable and admitting when you don’t know the answer, letting the child know you need help finding a solution and pulling in community supports and working toward that together.

Another theme was in the immediate aftermath, people often want to do normal things and there is a 3-,6-, 9- or 12-month delayed response to traumatic stimuli. This is when loneliness might kick in or the person needs supports and for others to be present for them.

Pat Rivard, director of Canadian operations at the Centre of Trauma Informed Response, joined the meeting virtually and talked about the natural human closeness/distance cycle that occurs in all families. Humans require closeness, connection and attachment. However, anxiety increases when there is too much closeness and that’s when we begin to push people away and enter a distance phase.

Over time, we begin needing attachment again, which increases anxiety and that is lowered by reaching out to others. During the pandemic, children created distancing in the home by spending time online creating relationships, which were often artificial. There is a regression trend that has become the norm, with youth functioning two to three years younger than their physical age.

The more pathways and landing pads available on the journey to recovery, the more successful it will be, said Rivard. The more connection a person has, the more supports that are reached out for, and the more others are willing to see and hear their truth, the greater the hope.

Heather Woodward, manager of child, youth, family and prevention services, addictions and mental health with Alberta Health Services, explained that through a restructuring, intake for children is faster and the wait time is now down to two weeks.

She encourages people to reach out for both the children and adult services, which are free. Call 1-888-594-0211 Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. or drop in to the Provincial Building on the first floor. Help can be reached 24/7 at 1-877-303-2642.

The recording of the event is currently available. Go to and click to join the meeting virtually. The first speaker starts talking at 2:26 minutes on the recording.

Also available on the webpage are the presentation support materials, including a list of numbers to call for help, mental health support groups or workshops available in Medicine Hat, a youth and suicide fact sheet along with another called Talking to Children About a Suicide.

“What we are going to do after this is bring all the same groups and more together to try and build a shared action plan for community that allows us to do a better job of supporting families and youth,” said Davidson. “What we are really interested in is, are there better ways we can work with our partners in order to provide supports to families.”

By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 04, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Medicine Hat News   Medicine Hat, Alberta

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