Leaving stigma behind

On Oct. 27, Wilfrid Laurier University’s Peer Help Line (PHL) invited Chris Chisholm, founder of the photography project “Collateral Damage: Images of Those Left Behind by Suicide”, and Tana Nash, co-ordinator of Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council, to the Turret to speak about suicide.

Chisholm didn’t interpret the empty seats at the lecture as a lack of interest in his project, which is compiling photos of people whose loved ones have taken their own lives. “These aren’t empty,” he said. “[People affected by suicide] just couldn’t come through that door.”
When a friend or family member dies by suicide, the topic seems unapproachable or taboo. A large part of Chisholm’s project is to bring the topic of suicide out into the open and remove the stigma. “Create a dialogue,” he said.

“Finding ways to talk about suicide is what’s going to change it. Whether it’s those of us who are left behind or whether it’s a friend who might think of suicide or thoughts we might have ourselves — so we need to talk about it.”

Chisholm said that people may be afraid of worsening a situation by mentioning the subject. The word “suicide” carries connotations that most people simply do not have the tools to deal with.

Nash gave some insight into the perceived dangers of talking about suicide. “Asking the question ‘are you thinking of taking your life’ will not make somebody go take their life,” she said.
“Now is it possible that they could still take their life? Yes. However, you’ve tried to ask the question and usually what happens is a sense of relief.”
Students who attended the presentation left with something to think about. Asked about the encouragement to create dialogue about suicide, political science student Edward Watkin said, “I guess we just have to be open about it. I don’t personally know anybody that has taken their life but if what they’re saying is true you’ve got to break the stigma and do whatever you can.”

While the event was sponsored by several groups and services, PHL co-ordinators Stephanie Hayes and Jenna Heasley organized the presentation.

As well as raising awareness, PHL is around for anyone experiencing difficulties including dealing with the suicide of another or personal thoughts of suicide.

“There are students that volunteer with Peer Help Line,” Hayes said. “They are anonymous and confidential so no one knows of their involvement with the service,” she continued.

“It’s a safe place for people to call in. If it’s outside of the counselling hours or they just want someone to be there to listen but not be face to face, it’s a safe place for them to talk.”

Watkin concluded with what he thought was important to take away from Chisholm and Nash’s presentation. “It’s preventable,” he said. “It’s something that can be talked about and should be talked about.”