People around Alberta who have lost a loved one to suicide gathered virtually on Saturday to share their stories.
Despite the mental health challenges that COVID-19 brings, the number of deaths by suicide is down in the province since the pandemic started.
Greg Duhaney completed a piece of art his little brother never got a chance to finish. Kevin Duhaney died by suicide in 2012 when he was 33.
“I didn’t experience anger, but I did experience a lot of self-blame and guilt,” Duhaney said from his home in Calgary on Saturday.
“I had to revisit all those moments where I felt like it was my fault for where he ended up, but really ultimately, it was out of my control.”
Since his brother’s death, Duhaney has been an advocate for others dealing with the complex emotions that survivors of suicide loss feel.
On Saturday, he spoke at the Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event. It’s the second year it has been held virtually because of the pandemic.
“The intimacy was there. It was visceral. People were able to tell their stories and go through all of the mess of emotions that come with suicide loss,” Duhaney said.
For the past 16 years, the Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region has hosted Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
Duhaney said the pandemic has opened the door for people to talk about mental health.
“I think the pandemic is contributing to people’s feelings of hopelessness and isolation, but the topic of mental health has become super hot in terms of the media and people are constantly exposed to it,” Duhaney said.
“I feel like the conversation is a lot more available now and that people can talk about sadness and feelings of depression and feelings are struggling with.”
But contrary to assumptions that suicide rates would increase during the pandemic, Alberta statistics show the number of suicides dropped slightly in 2020 to 592.
That compares to more than 600 in each of the previous four years.
“I think at this point, we are left more with speculation than with anything else,” said Dr. Michael Trew, Calgary board president of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Trew said the drop in deaths could be a case of people finding strength in community.
“I parallel this somewhat with what we have seen in times of war where communities seem to have a collective sense of purpose and pulling together,” Trew said.
“We actually see a more significant drop in rates of death by suicide in times like that, especially when you think of World War II.”
However, Trew said it’s also possible we may see higher rates in the coming years, as statistics have also shown that in times of economic depression, there is a lag when it comes to suicide deaths.
“There is a lag. Often a year or two before you actually see it emerging in the statistics. Whether we see something like that, I guess time will tell,” Trew said.
As for Duhaney, he said a big part of getting through suicide grief has been surrounding himself with others who are on the same journey.
“It’s important to be around people that are going through those same complex emotions that come with suicide loss, like self-blame and guilt and sadness and anger in some instances,” Duhaney said.
“Immersing yourself in a community of people that are going through the same thing is really the key to getting through suicidal grief and also to surround yourself with professionals that can help you understand and normalize the grieving process that comes with suicide loss.”
If you or someone you know needs support, call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645.
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