Debb Pitel is only one voice.
But she knows that’s all it takes to make a big difference.
“It took me ten years to realize I had a job to do,” said the local mother, who lost her 15-year-old son Tyler to suicide in 2001.
“I needed a way to come out of the darkness, to do more than just ‘cope’ every day. I needed to educate myself as much as I could, and reach as many people as I can.
“If we don’t educate,” she added, “the numbers will just continue to rise.”
Pitel, who has become a staunch advocate for suicide awareness and prevention, will join a panel of speakers at a special installment of Sarnia Speaks on September 10 at Great Lakes Secondary School.
The event: A Community Conversation about Suicide, is being held in partnership with the Sarnia-Lambton Suicide Prevention Committee, to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day.
For Pitel – who has raised thousands of dollars to support programs like SafeTalk Training – said the biggest hurdle for people is overcoming the stigma and silence.
“People still have a hard time saying ‘suicide’ and that’s a problem,” said Pitel. “We need to call it out, brush it off, and use the word, in order to make people listen.
“There are too many people, survivors and friends left behind who blame themselves, or put it under a microscope to see what they missed,” she added. “These people are deeply, deeply impacted, and we need to reach them.”
Sarnia Speaks organizer Danielle Cooper said the venue will provide an opportunity for raw, open and safe discussion.
“Suicide is not a word that people like to say, but in my opinion, when people feel like they’re not able to talk about something, that makes it even harder,” she said.
“This is such a big topic, and there’s been a lot of very public stories in our community – so we reached out to the Suicide Prevention Committee to help make this happen.”
According to a comprehensive study on mental health released in May by Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health, the local suicide rate fluctuates above and below the provincial rate of 8 to 10 per 100,000 people per year.
In 2015, the most recent year for which numbers are available, 21 people died by suicide. The suicide rate from 2010 to 2015 was higher than the previous five years, with 90% of them adults.
“Our main objective is to provide resources and education to those who need it,” said Susanne McLean, Sarnia-Lambton Suicide Prevention Committee coordinator. “And to help others know that it’s OK to talk about it”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Sarnia Speaks: A Community Conversation about Suicide
WHEN: Monday, Sept. 10, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
WHERE: Great Lakes Secondary School (275 Wellington St.)
DETAILS: Event is free and open to the public
Mental Health contacts:
Distress Line: 519-336-3000 or 1-888-DISTRES
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Lambton Mental Health Crisis Service: 519-336-3445 or 800-307-4319
St. Clair Child & Youth Services: 519-337-3701