Healthy Living in the North

Talking to our kids: having a conversation does more than you know

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

A man and child throwing rocks into a lake.Lately I’ve been hearing from my colleagues that they don’t know how to talk to their children about mental health issues or suicide in our community. I can relate to their struggle because, although I trained as a clinical counsellor and facilitate mental health workshops, everything I know seems to go out the window when it comes to my own kids and their struggles (and I end up doing the very things I advise against).

One thing I am sure of though, is that there is great value and importance in talking to our kids about the truth of the world. Our boys are 6 and 12 now and my husband and I have talked to them since they were toddlers about all manner of topics that affect them and their community. We have discussed residential school and colonial history, racism in our Northern community, the fentanyl crisis, youth suicide, domestic violence, LGBTQ2 language, social media dangers – the list is endless. I believe that there is a way to talk to kids about challenging topics, in an age appropriate way – and that we should! It’s important to prepare yourself for the emotional impact of discussing a topic that you have a lot of feelings about, for example, self-harm or suicide.

You may have different levels of knowledge about all of these topics, as we do, but I think even if you’re starting from the beginning, you can do so alongside your child (coming from a place of not knowing together is okay!). Find out one or two facts on an issue, and give them some language, so that they can ask questions. Let them know that you’ll share what you know; and if you don’t… you’ll find out.

There may be opportunities in your community that you haven’t considered attending that can spark conversation or ideas with your family about important topics, which may help them shape their opinions on community issues. We’ve taken our children to anti-violence rallies, anti-racism rallies, and Aboriginal rights marches. As always, I’ll run into someone I know there who says, “I should’ve brought my kids!” Even a young child will undoubtedly learn something by attending community events.

For example, domestic violence is something we want our boys to learn about as it’s a reality in our community. Now they have joined the Moosehide Campaign – a campaign to end violence against Aboriginal women and children. If they consider where they stand on issues like this now, and grow up surrounded by people who will stand by these values, we’re hopeful they will hold onto these values as youth and adults.

Kids notice what is going on around them and will ask questions. They may not need to know every detail of difficult topics, like suicides or violence, but you can discuss some of the reasons behind people’s actions, for example, why people take their lives. If we open the door to these conversations, and your children believe you have something to offer and can support them, they are more likely to speak up if they or their friends are going through difficult times.

If you’re not sure where to start, just listen. Your children will give you the opportunity needed to share your ideas and knowledge about the world. Ask them what they know about these things, and share what you are willing to share, in a way that doesn’t frighten them, but gives them a starting point to frame the information.

About Erin Anderlini

Erin Anderlini is the Health Director with the Prince George Native Friendship Centre. The Prince George Native Friendship Centre is a non-profit, non-sectarian organization dedicated to servicing the needs of Aboriginal people residing in the urban area and improving the quality of life in the community as a whole.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Know the signs. Start the conversation. Reach out.

Quote from article

Talking to a person close to you about suicide may be very difficult, but it’s an important step in helping your loved one get the support he needs.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and, according to World Health Organization, some 800,000 people die by suicide every year. There are also many more who attempt suicide but are unsuccessful.

Here are some facts:

  • More people in Canada die annually from suicide than from murder.
  • In Canada, 2,700 males die by suicide each year.
  • Suicide ranked as the seventh leading cause of male death in Canada in 2007.
  • In British Columbia, suicide is one of the top three causes of mortality among men aged 15 to 44, costing $209 million in 2010.
  • In Northern Health, suicide is the second leading cause of injury-related death.
  • There were 46 deaths, 263 hospitalizations, 323 ER visits and 55 people left disabled from suicide and self-harm in 2010 in northern B.C.
  • For males in B.C. aged 15-65, the rates were 3-4 times higher than death rates for females.
  • Men tend to report depression less often but also tend to engage more lethal methods for suicide.
  • Some Aboriginal communities have higher rates of suicide.

By the numbers, male suicide is not far behind prostate cancer in terms of death rates in Canada, but it is often a hidden thing and an uncomfortable topic to discuss publicly. Many people who lose family members to suicide are reluctant to acknowledge it because of the stigma. Someone else is always left behind to bear the costs of male suicide and these are largely costs that do not show up in the statistics.

There are many reasons that men decide that they have no other road out than to kill themselves. Mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression can leave an individual looking inward and feeling isolated. They can then easily believe that there is no point to life. Depression distorts thinking and makes the irrational seem plausible.

The difficulty with male depression is that the symptoms are not what we expect and are easy to overlook. Anger, irritability and feelings of being overwhelmed can make talking with someone about these feelings difficult. At the same time, if someone is becoming increasingly irritable about lots of seemingly small things, then maybe depression should spring to mind.

It is time to open the windows and let in some fresh air. We need to build the support for men to feel safe in asking for help. Talking is a great place to start and the more we talk about it, the less difficult it will become. Talking to a person close to you about suicide may be very difficult, but it’s an important step in helping your loved one get the support he needs.

If you have ever thought about hurting yourself or someone else or have been feeling overwhelmed, irritable and not yourself, talk to someone – call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE). Getting help is the healthiest thing you can do for yourself and your family!

More information

Banner for World Suicide Prevention Day

Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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