Christmas in March: Why holiday lights are shining in Labrador West

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Christmas in March: Why holiday lights are shining in Labrador West

Drive around Labrador West and you may confuse the month. It's March but Christmas lights are up and on.

The region has recently faced a high suicide rate and, to shine a light on the issue, residents have been asked to turn on their decorations during the area's annual winter carnival.

"This year our community has certainly had some struggles," said Karen Oldford, the mayor of Labrador City.

"We've lost a lot of really good people, a lot of close friends."

RNC's idea

The Labrador West detachment of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary had the idea to use the lights as a way to raise awareness of mental health.

"The people who ended up being the victims ... they weren't displaying any signs so that people could pick up that they were in crisis," Inspector Sean Ennis told CBC's Labrador Morning.

He said the families he spoke with often didn't realize their loved ones who died by suicide were going through anything.

"What we thought was 'let's have a visible sign' so that those people who are struggling in the community, know that the community actually cares."

'Positive approach'

Sam Andrews, a longtime resident of Wabush has his lights on, as do his neighbours.

He said a lot of people in the area wait until spring to take their outside decorations down because of the cold temperatures.

"It's nice to have lights up. It kind of brings on a positive approach to some of the things that have happened here," he said.

"Makes everybody feel vibrant."

New coalition on mental health 

A new mental health coalition has been formed in response to the suicides in Labrador West.

According to Inspector Ennis, two meetings so far have been attended by mental health professionals, management and union representatives in the mining community, mayors, minister's assistants, social workers, police and community groups.

"It's a wonderful cross section of our community," he said.

"When you have that many people and that many ideas coming together I don't think it can do anything but succeed."

The region's winter carnival ends March 19. A number of events have been scheduled with the aim of raising mental health awareness.

In the meantime, the inspector hopes Christmas lights will act as a catalyst for open conversation.