Expanding Suicide Prevention Programs Will Reach Northern Albertans Where They Live

Casey Szmata wanted to end her life after the suicide of her daughter Morgan in 2012. The love and support of her family and friends kept her alive.

Today, she is working to make this kind of help available to more people in northwestern Alberta – those with suicidal thoughts and those grieving for loved ones. that they lost.

“If I can save a family from going through what we’ve been through, then it’s worth it,” Szmata said in an interview at her home in Fairview, Alta., about 70 miles north of Grande Prairie.

reason to smile

After Morgan’s death, the family formed a non-profit organization called Always Find a Reason to Smile. The group is a suicide awareness and prevention organization focused on helping others who mourn the death of suicide.

“It was painfully obvious that we needed more resources,” Szmata said, recalling his own experience. “I myself traveled to Grande Prairie for funeral services.”

Szmata’s group supports families as far north as High Level who are grieving a suicide. She also raises funds for awareness initiatives and shares her family’s story with students at local schools.

“It’s been wonderful,” she said, “but it got to the point now that I felt we needed more and couldn’t get this part right.”

The Szmata family launched “Always find a reason to smile” after Morgan’s death. (Luke Ettinger/CBC)

Tammy Monro, director of outreach for the Grande Prairie Suicide Prevention Resource Center, said the organization hopes to open an outreach office north of the Peace River in 2023.

But with an office still months away from reality, Monro said the center will begin offering some programs to people living north of the city. “Right now we just want to bring in some of our programs that would be in the evenings,” Monro said.

Northern Alberta has the highest number of suicides in the province, according to the Center for Suicide Prevention, a Calgary-based education center that operates as a branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. He analyzes data from the office of the Chief Medical Officer of Alberta.

In 2021, 182 deaths by suicide were reported in the northern health region – more than 124 in Edmonton, 131 in Calgary and 143 in the South.

Monro said statistics have not shown an increase in suicides due to the pandemic, but she said there has been an increase in help-seeking behaviors.

“Ask for help or contact different resources, maybe access to therapists and support groups etc,” she said. “We are seeing a huge increase in the number of people accessing support and services [but] not necessarily a huge increase in actual deaths.

Government support

Communities north of the Peace River support the expansion of service.

Peace Municipal District Warden Robert Willing said he hoped deaths would be averted by bringing suicide prevention talks closer to home.

“Edmonton is five hours away, Grande Prairie two hours. [For] it’s really difficult for some people,” he said.

The city’s Peace District provided $3,000 for the satellite office initiative, Willing said.

Meanwhile, officials in Grimshaw, Alta., about 40 miles east of Fairview, have identified a former administration building that could be used as office space, said Brian Allen, the town’s chief administrator.

The old administrative building in the town of Grimshaw could be the future headquarters of the Suicide Prevention Satellite Office. (Luke Ettinger/CBC)

Szmata is pleased with the progress made toward more suicide prevention resources in Morgan’s memory.

“It’s up to her to decide. It’s not up to me,” Szmata said.

“I hope she’s proud.”

If you or someone you know is having trouble, get help here:

This guide to Center for Addiction and Mental Health describes how to talk about suicide with someone you are worried about.


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