Suicide Prevention Project responds to urgent need

“It’s about saving lives, particularly young lives.” This is how Cynthia Patterson summarized the Council of the North’s Suicide Prevention Project, which aims to equip northern Anglican clergy as they respond to high suicide rates in their communities. Since Ms. Patterson started her two-year contract as coordinator in November 2009 she has travelled widely to learn about the issue and set up a coordinated program. On Sept. 14 she was in Toronto for a meeting at Church House.

Suicide is a major problem within Canada’s ten northern dioceses—the Council of the North—particularly among Aboriginal youth. In Canada, suicide rates are five to seven times higher for First Nations youth than the general population. Among Inuit youth, suicide rates are 11 times higher than the national average.

“Some health researchers are calling this a pandemic, it has reached such proportions,” said Ms. Patterson.

Often Anglican clergy are on the front lines in responding to suicide. They support people who are depressed, they arrange and speak at funerals, and they care for families who are grieving. Yet most clergy have not received specific training about suicide prevention and response. In some communities, the only available resources approach suicide from a secular perspective that does not incorporate Christian or Aboriginal values.

For the Council of the North, a spiritual component is essential. A pamphlet for the Suicide Prevention Project includes this quote from National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald: “suicide has become one of the great spiritual battles of our time.”

Project grounded in local culture
The Suicide Prevention Project is working to enable diocesan resource teams to develop the prevention programs best suited for their communities. The problem of suicide spans all of northern Canada including urban Inuit communities and the Cree of eastern James Bay.

Ms. Patterson, who has a background in rural advocacy work, has travelled to many dioceses in the council, including the Arctic, Moosonee, and Quebec. As the programs take shape, some dioceses are choosing to adapt existing suicide prevention programs. Other dioceses are considering advocating for a national suicide prevention strategy.

“The most critical part is that a health initiative is taken by the community and is grounded in the community’s culture and in this case, Aboriginal culture and traditions,” said Ms. Patterson.

At the Sept. 14 meeting Ms. Patterson reported on her work so far and discussed partnerships within and across General Synod. In attendance were Archbishop David Ashdown, Keewatin/Rupert’s Land and chair of the Council of the North; Donna Bomberry, Indigenous Ministries coordinator; Vianney (Sam) Carriere, director of Communications and Information Resources and interim director of Philanthropy; Paul Clur, research consultant, Philanthropy; the Ven. John Robertson, senior management officer, Philanthropy; the Ven. Adam Halkett and Theresa Halkett, Montreal Lake Cree Nation, Diocese of Saskatchewan; Bishop Lydia Mamakwa, Area Bishop, Northern Ontario region; and José Zarate, Indigenous Communities and Latin America-Caribbean Development Program Coordinator, Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund. The meeting was facilitated by Suzanne Lawson, consultant to Philanthropy.

Funds raised through Amazing Grace Project
The funds for this suicide prevention work were raised through the Amazing Grace Project. In 2008, Canadian Anglicans filmed themselves singing “Amazing Grace” and donated a toonie to the Council of the North. Amazing Together, the award-winning documentary with footage of all the renditions, was one result. In addition, more than $95,000 was raised for the Council of the North, which they dedicated to the Suicide Prevention Project.

“I give thanks every day,” said Ms. Patterson. “It is the most amazing money that I’ve ever worked with, that it’s come in this way.”

There are still many ways that Canadian Anglicans can support this work. Ms. Patterson notes that already one parish has formally agreed to pray and fundraise for this project. Ms. Patterson also urges Canadian Anglicans to educate themselves and others, advocate for awareness, and volunteer where possible.

For more information about the project, email Cynthia Patterson, project coordinator. For more information about donating to the project, email Paul Clur, research consultant with the Department of Philanthropy, or call him at (416) 924-9199, ext. 293.

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