Suicidal Bereavement Support Groups for Alberta Youth Launch This Year

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Warning: this story refers to suicide. If you need help, you can reach the AHS Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-303-2642. Talk Suicide Canada’s 24-hour crisis line is 1-833-456-4566.

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A new support program for young people grieving a death by suicide will fill a “glaring gap” in mental health services, advocates say.

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The Edmonton branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association announced on Saturday that it will soon be offering online support groups for people aged 12 to 25, with funding from the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Ministry Provincial Children’s Services.

CMHA Edmonton runs suicide bereavement services for adults, but the new program, in partnership with Kickstand, a nonprofit youth mental health organization, will help young people find support among their peers.

The organization’s executive director, Giri Puligandla, said the adult program runs with a combination of structured sessions and drop-in groups, and new supports are likely to be similar, spread across age groups. 12-17 and 18-25.

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“There is no one size fits all when it comes to adult programs versus youth programs,” he said, noting that young people experience the loss of a friend, sibling or of a sister or parent very differently from an adult grieving a spouse or child.

But for anyone, gaining support and understanding from others dealing with the complexities of grief after suicide can be essential.

“When your loved one dies by suicide, there’s all kinds of stigma and there’s just a storm of emotions that you can’t really talk about,” Puligandla said.

“I’ve heard people say that the (adult) support group is literally the only place they can be themselves and talk openly about their feelings. Because in most other places people just don’t get it.

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Admission to support groups for young people aged 18 to 25 will begin in October, followed by registration for younger people.

Giri Puligandla, Edmonton Region Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), poses for a photo in Edmonton, Saturday, September 10, 2022.
Giri Puligandla, Edmonton Region Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), poses for a photo in Edmonton, Saturday, September 10, 2022. Photo by David Bloom /Postmedia

Alexandra San Diego, who works with Kickstand, said the organization has heard a clear call for youth-focused suicide bereavement support in Alberta.

“Having groups like this that support post-suicide can actually help prevent further suicides as well as the unhealthy behaviors that people might adopt after a difficult suicide death in their community,” he said. she declared.

September 10 marks World Suicide Prevention Day every year, and Puligandla said that while suicide can be a very difficult subject, it is important to discuss it openly. It is a myth that talking about suicide will “put the idea in someone’s head” and make them commit suicide.

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“Unless you create an opening for people to talk about suicide and suicidal feelings, it will always be in the shadows and it will always be something that people will be ashamed of,” he said.

How to get help

There is help out there for people contemplating suicide, and while there’s no sign anyone might be considering it, experts recommend opening a conversation if you’re concerned.

Not everyone who struggles or has a mental illness is potentially at risk for suicide, but Puligandla said there are steps you can take if you’re worried about someone in your life.

If you have reason to be concerned about someone, check in with them and ask about their well-being. Let them know you care, and if you’re worried, ask them directly if they’re thinking about suicide or feeling suicidal. There are resources on how to have this discussion on

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“There are a lot of people who have suicidal thoughts but never go beyond that,” Puligandla said, adding that the next step is to ask if their thoughts led to a plan to take their own life.

“When people start making plans, it becomes something that needs to be dealt with more critically.”

Talk Suicide Canada recommends calling 911 if there is imminent danger, but it is important to tell someone you are worried about that they deserve support and that help is available.

In addition to the AHS Mental Health Helpline and the Talk Suicide Crisis Crisis Line, the Distress Line can be reached at 780-482-HELP (4357).


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