Society offers increased online community support amidst pandemic
This article mentions suicide, and may be traumatic for some readers. Please be advised.
As part of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month in September, the Vancouver Island Crisis Society (VICS) is expanding their Suicide Bereavement Support program island-wide via Zoom. The society is emphasizing the need for community amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, especially where mental health is concerned.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on Canadians’ mental health. A survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) found that six per cent of respondents reported having suicidal thoughts in the last year as opposed to two per cent in the 2019 survey. VICS is looking to reduce those statistics and give anyone who is struggling a place to get help. The society says that it is especially important to reach out to those grieving a loved one who passed away as the result of suicide.
“People who lose a loved one to suicide are nine times more likely to have that serious thought to commit suicide themselves,” Lyndsay Wells, Community Education Program Coordinator for VICS, told the Martlet.
Wells says that COVID-19 gave the society a chance to re-evaluate how they were operating and eventually to expand their activities via online platforms.
“It was really interesting when we were shut down during COVID,” said Wells. “The crisis society had to kind of ask ourselves the question: what do we do with community education when there’s no community to go to?”
This is the moment, according to Wells, when the society began looking at online platforms and settled on Zoom as a way to keep their services going. One of the first programs they experimented with was the Suicide Bereavement Support Group, which provides support to those grieving the loss of a loved one to suicide. Responses were overwhelmingly positive, says Wells.
“The people in the group seem so much more relaxed and it’s so much easier to be in the comfort of your own home then having to make your way out to a group,” she said.
The group used to meet once a month at the society’s headquarters in Nanaimo but with the transition to Zoom, the society realized that it would be easy to expand the support group across the island.
“People have an opportunity to just sit back and listen, nobody has to share,” says Wells. “We know just from experience and research, that meeting in a bereavement group … is one of the most helpful things.”
Wells says that the society is taking advantage of Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and Suicide Prevention Awareness Day (Sept. 10) to focus on community, which is ever more important amidst the pandemic. In addition to the expansion of their Suicide Bereavement Support Group, VICS is also providing an online format of their COPE youth program through 11 short YouTube videos.
“COPE stands for communication, options, perspective, and enjoy life,” Wells explained. “We’ve been able to offer this to schools, or to families who are choosing to keep their kids home at no cost.”
In addition to their Suicide Bereavement Group and youth programs such as COPE, VICS offers support lines, accessible via phone or text, for those dealing with mental health challenges. Wells says it is important for people, especially youth and young adults, to reach out if they are in need of support.
“Talking about [mental health] is so important.” she said. “If [someone reaches] out to, for example, Vancouver Island crisis line, what they’re going to get is somebody who’s very comfortable listening and talking about mental health, very comfortable talking about suicide if somebody is having suicidal thoughts.”
Wells says that the VICS also has a database of thousands of resources across Vancouver Island that people can access if they need support.
“My message is always to say to people, please know that you’re not alone,” said Wells. “Help and support are really just as much as a phone call, a text, or a chat away, and we can just keep letting people know that and to not carry things alone, find safe, trusted people to talk to, and unpack some of those big things.”
More information about the Suicide Bereavement Support Group, COPE, and other programs can be found on VICS’s website. VICS’s crisis line can be reached at 1-888-494-3888.