I grew up in St. John’s. My very first job in mental health was as registered nurse in Corner Brook. Though my career has taken me to all the corners of the globe, my heart has never left Newfoundland.
That’s why the succession of suicides on the Burin Peninsula resonated with me so deeply. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador are made of stern stuff. We are a province of storytellers, seafarers and music lovers. Whenever I’m on the mainland and I meet someone from home, there’s an instant bond, an immediate recognition.
When I learned that in the short span of 14 months, six people had died by suicide in the small community of Grand Bank alone, it broke my heart. These are my people. And they are in pain. People who are experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours don’t want to die. They want to put an end to their acute suffering.
And now, I am so proud that the communities of the Burin Peninsula are the first to sign-on to a national suicide prevention initiative called Roots of Hope — A Community Suicide Prevention Project.
Teachers, nurses, hairdressers, coaches: all can be taught how to act as a first line of defense , able to identify and intervene should they encounter someone showing signs of a serious mental health concern.
As the name suggests, Roots of Hope is very much a homegrown, locally driven project. It will draw heavily on the regional expertise of Burin’s newly formed mental health coalition. In Newfoundland and Labrador, it will also build on fresh provincial mental health investments and add to them.
It will include a push to address stigma and help communities restrict means to suicide. It will also bolster opportunities to seek help, as with single-session walk-in mental health appointments and increased peer support.
Roots of Hope will focus on getting concrete tools into the hands of people who interact with those who might be vulnerable. Teachers, nurses, hairdressers, coaches: all can be taught how to act as a first line of defense, able to identify and intervene should they encounter someone showing signs of a serious mental health concern.
When I was a young postgraduate student, my best friend died by suicide. To this day I wonder, if she’d had a conversation with a caring colleague, if she’d known where to go to get help, if she’d had the language to express her feelings free from stigma, would she be here today?
So, I’ve made it my life’s work to spark hard conversations, to push the boundary on stigma, to make workplaces more responsive, compassionate and flexible. There is nothing I can do to change how my best friend died, but every day I try to do something to ensure that others might choose a very different path.
We must work together to create compassionate communities; places where people feel supported, not judged. Where going in search of help is applauded as a strength, not derided as a weakness.
I believe that if we put down Roots of Hope in communities across the country, we will help to change the culture of our cities and towns.
The communities within the Burin Peninsula are knitting together in the face of tragedy. The fabric of their community is strengthened by their resilience.
These are my people. And today, my heart is full of hope.
Louise Bradley, president and CEO
Mental Health Commission of Canada