Alberta to Fund Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Programs in Medicine Hat

Alberta to Fund Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Programs in Medicine Hat
A man walks past a mural painted as part of the Cities of Hope festival in 2016 and highlighting mental health, in Ancoats, northern Manchester, England, on Oct. 16, 2020. (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)
Isaac Teo

Alberta has announced it will provide funding to the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Medicine Hat chapter to go toward suicide prevention and mental health programs to help those contemplating suicide amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Alberta Southeast Division will receive over $220,000 to enhance its capability to provide timely access to “suicide prevention information, awareness and training programs” to those who need it.

A string of suicides struck Medicine Hat this year, many among the same group of friends. Though the final death toll isn't known due to how complicated it can be to classify and report suicides, some estimates say up to seven men took their own lives over a period of several months. All were in their 30s and 40s and many had been involved in the city's hockey community.

“Medicine Hat has been hit disproportionately hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, seeing the loss of so many young men throughout the city,” said Mayor Ted Clugston.

“The families and the community continue to grieve knowing that children are left without fathers, wives are without their husbands, and parents are without their children.”

The funding will support the delivery of free workshops that educate the public about the warning signs of suicide among children, youth, and adults, and a skill-based suicide prevention program.

In addition, the CMHA will use the funds to raise awareness on the availability of suicide prevention resources, one of which includes Buddy Up, a campaign that encourages men to help one another and access the services if they need to.

The funding also will help support any family members of the seven men who are already undergoing private counselling in bereavement support programs.

The city is also collaborating with the Alberta Health Services, CMHA, schools, community groups, RCMP, and the police to raise awareness about mental health resources and suicide prevention services.

For instance, the Medicine Hat Public School Division (MHPSD) had its first community conversation on Oct. 5 to equip parents and caregivers with the strategies needed to help youth handle the trauma caused by the recent suicides.

“Mental health has been at the forefront of the community since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Claire Petersen, MHPSD’s psychologist. “We've had lots of students and families who have experienced loss since the start of COVID. The recent events in our community have really intensified that the impact of the pandemic.”

The second meeting is slated for Nov. 4. All parents, caregivers, and school staff are invited to the virtual event and no registration is required.

The second meeting, which will be smaller and more intimate, will be followed by other similar meetings for parents and guardians of students in different age groups.

Anyone looking to attend can check the public school division's website for a link, which will be posted a day before the meeting. People can also submit questions online through the MHPSD website.

With files from The Canadian Press.