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How a Small Community Copes with Suicide

Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee, South Cariboo Region (100 Mile House, BC)

Reprinted from "Suicide" issue of Visions Journal, 2005, 2 (7), p. 38

It has been said that “it take a whole community to raise a child.” We have also learned that “one child can raise a whole community.”

It was a day we would like to forget—and one that changed our community forever. As a result of a sudden tragic death in 1989, the small town of 100 Mile House was forced to open its eyes to the reality of youth suicide.

The tragic loss of one of our town’s young people spurred the community to respond. Later in 1989, as suicide postvention, Mental Health Services sponsored Suicide Attempt Follow-up, Education and Resources (SAFER) community workshops. In April 1991, 100 Mile House’s Suicide Prevention Task Force was formed. The task force involved a diverse group of adults, ranging from counsellors and clergy to survivors.

In 1992 and 1993 the task force sponsored additional SAFER workshops, as well as the Let’s Live! program, a school-based suicide awareness and intervention program produced by the BC Council for the Family for students in grades eight to 12.

Weldwood, a local forestry employer, co-sponsored the task force for a presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder through their Employee Assistance Program.

Next, the task force, together with the Mental Health Advisory Committee and the support of the entire community, began lobbying for a crisis response worker placement in the local hospital.

Work continued, with a focus on youth prevention and education. In May of 1993, a youth survival guide was produced—in the form of a wallet card that contained a simplified response guide, as well as a list of pertinent phone numbers. This wallet card is still being produced, with minor updates, for both youth and adults. The business community of 100 Mile House has supported the task force all along by covering the printing cost.

By 1994 the first set of Community Agency Protocols for Suicide Prevention had been laboriously created and distributed.

For a time following these incentives the task force lost its impetus and struggled with its membership and funding. However, as the community would be tragically reminded by another youth suicide in 2000, the task force mandate remained an issue.

Regular meetings were reinstated, resulting in an insert in the local paper focusing on education, awareness and prevention of youth suicide; evening workshops; and fundraising for a yellow ribbon campaign.

In 2001 the local youth centre submitted a proposal to the task force to develop a guide called Suicide Prevention—A Community Response for Youth and Families. This project resulted in new energy—youth from the local high school were involved for a time—and a new organization name: the Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee (SPAC). SPAC continued the important work begun by the task force. A coordinator was hired to produce a new set of intervention protocols, which was released in May 2003.

SPAC continues to revise the protocol binder in an effort to meet the community’s need. The committee offers educational events, provides prevention tools, and persists in keeping suicide prevention in the forefront for the people of the South Cariboo. While we hope that the reason for the committee’s existence will some day disappear, until that time we will maintain the vigil.

About the Author

The South Cariboo Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee (SPAC) is a community based effort comprising school counsellors, social workers with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and representatives from the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre and local employment programs

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