When it comes to the ongoing suicide crisis in the North, the Saskatchewan Health Authority believes in getting to the root of the problem.

Anne Duriez is Meadow Lake’s community coordinator for Roots of Hope – a multi-site, community-led project initiated through the Mental Health Commission of Canada that aims to reduce the impacts of suicide within communities across the country.

“Roots of Hope is a research demonstration project being managed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada,” Duriez reiterated. “I am managed by the Saskatchewan Health Authority, and we have consultations with the Ministry of Health around different aspects of the project. There is some very intentional effort being made to move the whole area of suicide prevention, intervention and post-vention forward to reduce the number of suicide attempts and related deaths across Canada.”

The project builds on community expertise to implement suicide prevention interventions tailored to the local context. This is expected to lead to the development of an evidence base, including best practices and suicide prevention guidelines and tools.

“As part of Roots of Hope here, we are partnered with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council, so four of the communities closest to us are communities I serve in my role as coordinator,” Duriez said. “These communities include Makwa Sahgaiehcan First Nation, Ministikwan, Waterhen Lake and Flying Dust. The initiative is still fairly new. I started in the role in October 2018.”

Since that time, Duriez said the focus has primarily been on suicide prevention.

“Things like additional training for people at the clinic, those sorts of things so people will recognize when someone is struggling with mental health who might not be specifically suicidal, but anything we can do to reduce someone’s reluctance to talk about their mental health helps us reduce suicide,” she said. “When people are talking about what is going on with them, they can get the help they need.”

In addition to providing training and building networks, the remainder of Roots of Hope’s five pillars include: specialized supports such as prevention, crisis, support and self-help groups groups (including self-help), workplace interventions, and coordinated planning and access to services; public awareness campaigns which are locally driven to promote mental health awareness; means safety, such as the identification of the methods or places where a high number of suicides occur and implementation of measures to ensure safe access to them; and research, and the establishment of research priorities, surveillance and monitoring, and more.

As for what the future holds, Duriez emphasized it’s all about building community capacity.

“Let’s say, in five years, Roots of Hope is gone from Meadow Lake,” she said. “There will still be people in the community trained to lead grief groups or those sorts of things. The capacity stays in the community. If we educate the public about why they should properly dispose of old medication and stuff like that, those are the kinds of things that remain in the community. Whatever we are doing, the goal is to build capacity in the community.”

In 2018, the average suicide rate (per 100,000) was 27.9 in northwest Saskatchewan compared to the provincial average of 18.7. Meanwhile, anyone experiencing a crisis is encouraged to contact the local mental health clinic at 306-236-1580. People who are experiencing a crisis, however, should also go the nearest emergency department as quickly as possible. A list of resources is also available at the City of Meadow Lake’s official website.

by Phil Ambroziak