Annual suicide prevention conference held in Chisasibi

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Whether or not it’s affected your life directly, suicide is a difficult topic.

“It’s not something you discuss in your home,” said Doris Bobbish, a Social Services Coordinator for the Cree Board of Health of Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB).

Bobbish was an organizer of the second annual suicide prevention conference held in Chisasibi September 10-14. She told the Nation that Chisasibi was chosen as the host for this year’s conference because it already has its own local committee dedicated to suicide prevention.

“We have been working together for a couple of years now, trying to find ways to address the issue and how to talk about it,” explained Bobbish. “It is not really talked about so this is something that we are trying to make people aware of. It is okay to talk about suicide and we can no longer keep it a secret.”

She emphasized that suicide really doesn’t discriminate, it affects everyone. “It’s always very sudden, and you don’t expect it.”

One of the discussions held at the conference revolved around suicide in the media. Those at the conference examined TV shows like 13 Reasons Why (a teen drama that revolves around the suicide of a 17-year-old girl) and the impact the recent string of celebrity suicides has had on Eeyou Istchee.

“We had training on how to deal with people who are suicidal and this was for the skills that you would need to help people in this kind of a situation,” said Bobbish. “There was a lot of certified training for other professionals and frontline workers.”

Doctors, psychologists and psychotherapists from outside of the Cree Nation also attended the trainings to better understand someone who is suicidal in the context of Cree life.

Workshops on things like anxiety and panic attacks were also offered to the conference attendees, according to Bobbish.

And, when things got too intense for some, there was a whole community of Elders on hand to offer their wisdom and love to help those suffering through those moments.

“Most of the Elders were there to participate by being a support. It helped everyone knowing that they are there for us,” said Bobbish.

Outside of all of the professional training and special workshops, there was also an opportunity for those who had lost someone to remember.

A candle-lighting ceremony closed the conference. Elder Stephen Pepabano led the ceremony in which around 50 delegates each lit a candle in remembrance of those who were lost to suicide.

“As you light the candle and you see the flame, remember the life lost to suicide and to forgive them and praise that life into the light,” he said. “Suicide prevention is everybody’s business.”

There was also a resolution put forward and signed by all of the chiefs present committing them to work within their community to deliver Cree-appropriate services on suicide prevention.

The overarching goals of the conference was to ensure that there are positive outcomes and effective strategies in place to make sure that help is available for those who need it, and that those who need it can access it before the situation reaches a desperate point. The focus is on prevention and intervention and the commitment is there for all of Eeyou Istchee.

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