Connecting the DOTS of suicide

Second-annual awareness rally asks government for sharp change

Jean Oliver leads the first-annual DOTS rally, which saw 300 people join hands in 2011.

Jean Oliver leads the first-annual DOTS rally, which saw 300 people join hands in 2011.

Second-annual awareness rally asks government for sharp change

Jean Oliver cares a lot about suicide.

She knows what it’s like to think no one cares, and she’s sharply connected to the feelings of worthlessness that partner depression. She also knows what it’s like to survive suicide attempts — four, in fact, through cutting, alcohol and pills. Yet the three times she tried to check herself into the hospital (once, holding an X-Acto blade in her hand while asking the nurses for help) she was released after her consultations because she “didn’t fit the criteria” for someone suicidal.

That’s part of the reason Oliver is forging ahead with another rally to dot the path between the legislature lawn and emergency hospital services — and why she has created an entire organization around it.

The Society for the Development of Treatment Services for Mental Health (DOTS BC) will host the second-annual DOTS Mental Health and Suicide Awareness Rally on Sat., Sept. 8, 10am to 2pm on the legislature lawn. In honour of World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10), the group is asking all survivors, supporters and those affected by suicide to join hands to “connect the dots” in a human chain for better health care.

“I survived my suicide attempts, but if I hadn’t gotten pissed off enough at myself for what I was putting the people I love through, maybe I wouldn’t be there today,” Oliver, 53, says. “The rally is about celebrating survival, but we focus on the belief that things will get better.”

That better vision is specific. DOTS BC is asking the government to promote a national health strategy that would focus on four main components: a bed for all emergency psychiatric patients, self-referral resources for those who feel unsafe on their own, pediatric psychiatric services extended up to age 25 and publicly funded psychotherapy.

“The number one thing you can do for a person struggling with survival is just be there for them and ask that person what they need,” says Oliver. “But there’s so much more the government could be doing.”

Last year’s inaugural rally saw over 300 people line the streets from Royal Jubilee’s mental health ward toward the legislature, then march as a group the remaining way to the lawn. While Oliver is expecting a larger turnout this year, she is hoping the rally at the lawn will create more fervour in the message to the government. At the site there will also be a memory box, where people are invited to write messages to those lost, or words of hope to those who survived.

Survivors be aware: the rally honours life, loss and survival, and remembering emotional events can trigger strong feelings. DOTS BC asks that you only attend if it is safe for you to do so, and plan for support in the days following. While there will be emergency services on hand, no counselling services will be present.

“The rally provides a safe space for the people behind the statistics to come together,” says Oliver. “This is a place we can use for healing … the people who think about ending their lives and the people who need to relearn life after losing a loved one.”

According to the 2012 Canadian Mental Health Commission report, suicide is the second-leading cause of death in youth, and the third-leading cause of death in adults. Approximately 55 suicides occur per day in Canada, according to a 2009 National Blue Print Study, though those numbers could be higher now. Oliver hopes the rally can let every survivor see how many people care about this issue, in an effort to change those stats.

“Personally, I get an even deeper sense of my commitment to life now that there are so many people out there relying on me,” she says. “I don’t feel invisible anymore.” M

Read more about Oliver’s survival story here.

Learn more about DOTS BC and the rally at dotsbc.com.

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