Speakers share messages of hope and resilience with U of G community
The Suicide Awareness and Prevention Banquet, held on March 2, aimed to continue the conversations regarding suicide and the stigma surrounding it at the University of Guelph.
Hosted by the Psychology Society, the semi-formal event in Peter Clark Hall included six speakers discussing a variety of topics related to mental health and suicide prevention in between breaks for dinner and dessert.
The evening began with a moment of silence for all those who have lost their lives to suicide.
Michaela James, a member of the Psychology Society, then led the way as the first speaker of the evening. James was the driving force behind the event after first proposing it a year ago. She said that she “wanted to remove the taboo feeling, the hush-hush,” following the death of her older brother to suicide in 2010.
Myrna Hutchinson, who founded the organization Get in Touch for Hutch after her son Stephen died of suicide in his university dorm room, spoke about the need to eliminate the silence and the stigma.
“We are all human beings and we need to start giving each other permission that it’s okay not to feel okay every single day,” said Hutchinson.
Jason Colero, the current manager of community relations for the Toronto Argonauts and founder of the Huddle Up bullying prevention program, brought some positive energy to the room. He shared that during high school, one dissenting voice among a group of bullies saved his life.
Colero urged the audience to never underestimate what they can do for someone, saying, “Your voice, your ear—something you have that you can give—can change someone’s life.”
The next speaker, Stephen Lewis, a researcher in areas of self-injury and youth mental health, spoke about his own experiences and his path to “cutting through the shame.”
Lewis was already known by many audience members as a U of G psychology professor and demonstrates through his own life that, “No one experience, or set of experiences, over a person’s life will ever define them.”
Chelsea Mulvale, a recent Guelph grad and student staff, followed with their own story of their mental health experiences and resilience, and the influence of intersecting identities on mental health. They also spoke about the lack of media representation for LGBTQ2IAP+ individuals, and the need to change the fact that the only time some people see themselves represented in the media is in stories about people being attacked or murdered.
The final speaker of the evening was Shawna Percy, a certified suicide prevention trainer. Percy discussed different types of suicide first aid training, urging the audience to imagine what the impact could be if teachers, bartenders, and other public workers were all trained in suicide prevention.
In addition to training, Percy encouraged changing our language, saying that she has seen how talking directly and openly about suicide has saved people’s lives.
As well as increased conversation and compassion, Percy asked the audience to be careful with their word choices, eliminating detrimental phrases such as “failed suicide” or “completed suicide,” and instead to simply say “suicide attempt” or “died of suicide.”
Percy also addressed the recent student suicides at the University of Guelph and the response of the student body to demand greater suicide prevention efforts in their community.
The organizers were prepared for emotions to run high during the event and the host led deep breathing exercises in between each speaker to both honour and respect the stories just shared, and to allow the audience to regain control of their emotions.
The event also provided a room to go to if anyone was feeling overwhelmed, triggered, or just needed a minute to themselves at any point.
The topics discussed were heavy, but each speaker made sure to end with a message of hope, contributing to the overall message for the evening.
In addition, everyone in the audience went home with a bag of mental health resources and a yellow ribbon to wear to signify support for suicide prevention.
All additional funds from the evening, including a raffle, will be going to the Student Support Network on campus.
Photo by Abbey Butler.