WILKIE, Sask. — Suicide awareness and mental health issues were explored during this year’s diocesan convention of the Catholic Women’s League held April 25 at St. James Church in Wilkie, Sask.
“One in three people across Canada will have a mental health issue at some point in their lifetime,” said guest speaker Donna Bowyer of the Mental Health Association of Saskatchewan. “There isn’t anyone who goes untouched. If it doesn’t happen to us, or in our families, it happens to somebody that we know and care about,” she said. “It affects us all.”
Unfortunately, not everyone with mental illness receives the support and the services they need, added Bowyer, saying that this situation wouldn’t be tolerated for any other illness. “With mental health, because of the stigma, we don’t speak out.”
There is a lot of blaming and judgment around mental illness, she said, describing the barriers and the isolation that such stigma causes.
“You become your illness instead of a person who happens to have an illness,” Bowyer said. “Remember that no one is to blame for illness. They are a person first, who happens to have an illness. It does not define who they are.”
She listed factors that affect mental health, such as self-understanding, resiliency, relationships and supports, and capacity for loss.
Working through unresolved losses is vital to mental health, she said, noting that our response to someone experiencing loss is often to try and minimize it and focus on the positive. A person must be allowed to work through a loss or they cannot move beyond it, Bowyer said. “Whenever you have a change in life, there is a loss.”
She pointed out that young people today are dealing with a lot: friends, peer pressure, relationships, school, self esteem, stress, hormones, mood swings, and expectations, with many also impacted by alcohol abuse, drug abuse, sexuality and identity, bullying and cyber-bullying.
Depression and anxiety are serious mental health problems for all ages, said Bowyer. Generally those suffering depression are regretting the past, while those experiencing anxiety fear the future — some experience both depression and anxiety at the same time. “What we need to do is spend time in the present,” she said.
Men and women often deal with depression and anxiety differently, she added. Depression continues to go unrecognized in some cases, underlying other problems such as addictions or stress in relationships.
Suicide awareness is crucial, Bowyer said, describing her work as a trainer with Friends for Life, a suicide prevention program offered by the Mental Health Association.
The program is designed to provide awareness and knowledge of suicidal symptoms and provide skills for supporting and offering resources to those at risk. The program includes a range of workshops designed for different audiences, including youth, students, educators, and those dealing with grief and trauma after a suicide. These offerings range from short introductory sessions to longer, more in-depth programs, such as Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST).
When someone is speaking about suicide it is important to stay calm and non-judgmental, and let the person talk about their feelings and why they want to die, said Bowyer. “You have to be able to listen to that, before they will listen to why you want them to live,” she said. “Take any threat seriously, and don’t promise secrecy.”
Workshops and awareness can have a big impact in preventing suicide, she said, pointing to statistics showing how suicide rates dropped in one area after schools introduced a mere two hours of suicide awareness training a year.
Bowyer described ways to foster resilience in ourselves and others, and to engage in “mental health first aid.” She stressed the importance of self-care, striving to live life to the full, and actively taking time to build up our own resiliency and mental health. “If you don’t take time for mental health, you will need to take time for mental illness.”
The 81st annual diocesan CWL convention also included a presentation from Bruce Acton, CEO of St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation.
Highlighting the national CWL theme — One Heart, One Voice, One Mission — the convention began with greetings from dignitaries and special guests, and featured reports from the provincial council, the diocesan president, and a number of standing committees of the diocesan CWL council, touching on a wide range of issues and topics.
An election of diocesan officers was also held, with the installation of the new executive celebrated during mass with Bishop Donald Bolen.
The new executive includes president Marlene Van Dresar, past-president Frances Stang, president-elect Ingrid Eggerman; corresponding secretary Edna Hodgson; recording secretary Audrey Zimmerman; treasurer Melanie Fuchoux, Our Lady of Grace chair Marion Laroque, Clothing Depot chair Mary Jacobi and spiritual adviser Claire Heron. Other standing committee chairs include Marie Vogelgesang, Shelly Ternes, Denise Bachmier, Edie Lozinsky, June Gorgchuck, Doreen Possberg and Mary Kehrig.