Amherst walks to end the suffering

Darrell Cole
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Elminating stigma surrounding suicide

Social worker John Rossong speaks during a Communities Addressing Suicide Together information session at Amherst town hall.

AMHERST – Brenda Martin-Hurlburt wants to end the stigma associated with suicide.

Speaking at the Cumberland County Communities Addressing Suicide Together information session in Amherst on Monday, she said her family suffered with the stigma of suicide after her brother took his own life.

“I wasn’t prepared for the questions, comments and remarks I would hear from people. The stigma that was attached to a death by suicide was unreal,” she told close to 50 people who participated in the walk and discussion that followed. “I remember people would say things to me like, ‘is your brother the guy who killed himself? Or ‘why would anyone be so selfish. I also heard things like ‘Only a coward would take the easy way out.”

Looking back at what happened, Martin-Hurlburt said it wasn’t her brother’s death that was hard to deal with, it was the stigma associated with it. She felt like there was no one to talk to and when ever she did talk to someone the response was negative.

Eventually Martin-Hurlburt joined CAST and the healing began. She said she’s speaking out so her loss can help prevent further loss and hopes that anyone in grief reaches out for help instead of feeling shame or guilt.

“Suicide is a tragic and unexplainable death that loved ones spend years wondering how they could’ve changed things,” she said. “I mostly wanted to help stop the sting of stigma that was always present around a death by suicide. I wanted to remind others that that man was someone’s loved one and he should not be judged. Most important, I want to let people know that if they have lost a loved one to suicide they are not alone.”

Rev. Don Miller remembers growing up in the 1970s when suicide was something people didn’t talk about.

“Imagine not being able to see another sunset, enjoy the beauty of a snowfall or all the beautiful colours that nature provides. Never seeing another painting or reading another book with your eyes,” he said. “And yet there are many people who cannot see the beauty that is all around them. People who cannot hear laughter or joy. People who cannot experience love and hope and future.

“For them the light is dim and sounds are muffled. Life for them has taken on a tragic bleakness. And they resentfully spend their life in despair, regret, resentment and desperation.”

Miller said some people turn to a permanent solution to a temporary condition.

“And they lave this world never giving life a chance to heal and leaving permanent wounds on those left behind,” Miller said.

John Rossong has seen the effects of suicide up close as a social worker and someone who was part of a community response to a rash of teen suicides in Springhill in the 1990s.

“We as a society have come a long way in regards to suicide. To come from a place where people did not want to talk about it or acknowledge suicide as a significant health issue to today where at least 40 countries around the globe are taking a stand against stigma associated suicidal behaviour.”

Rossong said there is help for those contemplating suicide including the Kids Help Phone, the mental health crisis line, 211, 811, 911, Cumberland Mental Health Services, Addiction Services, Maggie’s Place, Public Health, doctors, nurse practitioners and more.

There are also numerous resources on the Internet.

Dave Whalen spoke to those in attendance about CAST and what has been done and is being done to address suicide in communities across the province, while Janice Melanson of the Cumberland CAST chapter talked about what has been done locally and how people can join the organization.

The evening included a gathering in Victoria Square and a walk around downtown Amherst before returning to town hall.

Twitter: @ADNdarrell

Organizations: Cumberland County Communities Addressing Suicide, Cumberland Mental Health Services, Addiction Services

Geographic location: Amherst, Springhill, Victoria Square

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