Warning: This story contains discussion of suicide.
Since the death of her son, Richard, in December 1995, Tina Davies has spent nearly three decades talking about suicide and the need for more supports in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Sitting alongside government officials in St. John's on Wednesday to hear the announcement of a multi-year plan to prevent suicide in the province, she said the work was worth it.
"When you believe in something, when you really believe and you do the work, it can happen," Davies, president of the Richard's Legacy Foundation, told reporters Wednesday.
"With the 12 actions outlined here … we can bring that hope, continue to remove stigma, promote understanding and save lives. Perhaps the life of your child, or even your own."
Davies was on hand for the announcement of Our Path to Resilience, a five-year, 12-action plan to improve monitoring, surveillance and research aimed at preventing suicide.
The plan focuses on improving mental health literacy, and strengthening prevention, intervention and followup supports for people who have dealt with the effects of suicide.
The province set aside $2.5 million in funding for the plan in the 2022 budget, and will contribute an additional $4.5 million annually for the next four years.
The plan will be overseen by a provincial steering committee of government departments, community groups, Indigenous partners and with those who have experience with the subject, including through their own attempts or having lost someone to suicide — something Health Minister John Haggie says will play a key role in addressing problems in the current system.
"Suicide is a complex public health issue, and it affects people of all ages regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnicity or race," Haggie said Wednesday.
"Our province has come a long way in improving the quality and availability of mental health and addictions services over the past several years, and yet we know there is still a lot to do."
Haggie said Newfoundland and Labrador's suicide rate is higher than the national average and that the rate increased by a staggering 234 per cent between 1981 and 2017.
Data in a paper co-authored by Nathaniel Pollock, a research associate with the Labrador Institute, shows rates went from fewer than five people per 100,000 took their own lives in Newfoundland and Labrador in the early 1980s to more than 15 people per 100,000 in 2018. Nationally, the suicide rate was around 11 people per 100,000 during that same period.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24, and the leading cause of death in First Nations and Inuit communities, said Haggie.
The impact of suicide in Indigenous communities has been felt by Anastasia Qupee, chair of the Indigenous Health team for the province's mental health and addictions action plan.
She says Labrador's suicide rate can be as much as four times higher than Newfoundland's, and is even higher in Inuit communities on Labrador's north coast.
"I know many families, including my own, who have lost loved ones to suicide. This has been a sad reality for both Innu communities of Sheshatshiu and Natuashsish as well for the other Indigenous communities in this province," Qupee said.
I couldn't shut up about it, and I still don't shut up about it. I never will, because it's so important to speak about it. - Tina Davies
Qupee said she's especially thankful for the provincial government's commitment to suicide prevention, along with the recommendations to develop land- and culture-based resources and a focus on intergenerational trauma.
Davies sees the plan as a huge step forward, saying mental health supports have come a long way in Newfoundland and Labrador since she moved to the province in the early 2000s.
She says talking and being open about suicide is key in shaking the stigma of asking for help, and says direct dialogue can make all the difference for people who are struggling.
"I couldn't shut up about it, and I still don't shut up about it. I never will, because it's so important to speak about it," she said.
"It's wonderful to know the support is here. To give the message of hope. Because without hope, we're lost. Know that you aren't alone.… Nobody is giving up on this."
Where to get help:
Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) | crisisservicescanada.ca
In Newfoundland and Labrador: Mental Health Crisis Line 24 Hour: 811
In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868, live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre