The community of Chisasibi was shocked recently by a terrible tragedy when a 13-year-old girl took her own life.
Lorraine Snowboy was found just after midnight in her basement on the night of August 3. She had hung herself.
Chisasibi Police officers Jane Fireman and Barry Duff answered the call. “The officers arrived at the scene where she was found hanging,” said Eric Mistacheesick, Chisasibi’s Police Chief. “There was an attempt made to revive her, but it failed.”
The suicide has set off alarm bells in the community. Chief Abraham Rupert, along with other specialists and elders, addressed the community regarding the issue August 6. A large number of youth turned out at the Mitchuap to express their condolences, sorrow and disbelief.
According to Brian Bishop, Director of Youth Protection in Chisasibi, suicide does not just affect certain people; it can hit anyone at anytime. “It is any number of factors that are coming together, where the person gets to a point where they feel hopeless and they feel like there’s no way out,” he said. “It’s a point of darkness where you don’t feel like there’s any light at the end of the tunnel.”
The hardest part of dealing with these types of situations is lack of foresight. “There’s no 100 per cent foolproof way to determine that somebody will become suicidal unless somebody has a crystal ball,” said Bishop, who has a master’s degree in social work from McGill University. “There are clear warning signs that a person might be troubled, be in trouble, or is having some sort of difficulty, and that suicide may be something they’re contemplating.”
Bishop said some of the signs are very apparent, but if a loved one doesn’t recognize them, the consequences could be tragic. “Some of the things that we can look for is somebody withdrawing from friends, family, or activities that once gave them pleasure and a sense of identity,” he noted.
“Another sign would be drastic changes in habits or no longer caring about appearance or cleanliness. If suddenly you see there’s this drastic change in your child’s behavior, like they use to play basketball and it’s no longer fun anymore; that would be an indicator.” Extreme mood swings or engaging in dangerous behavior with a disregard for the consequences are other signs.
Before the suicide, Chisasibi had a 24-hour crisis prevention line that people could use to call and seek advice. The problem was there was only one worker to answer the phone. Since the incident however, they have set up a crisis prevention hotline, encouraging others to come forward with their feelings and most importantly, talk to someone. The community has also made psychologists available for those who are dealing with this tragic loss.
Bishop also suggested asking someone if they are behaving strangely about their intentions directly. “If you see a friend who might be thinking about suicide, ask them straight out, ‘Are you thinking of killing yourself?’ Instead of skirting the issue, it’s important to call it for what it is. If you were wrong or they don’t want to admit it, fine. But if that gets them to talking about their thoughts then you will have done your part,” he said.
He also suggested that recognizing depression in young people is important. “Most adults would think that the young people have nothing to be depressed about, but that’s not the truth,” said Bishop, who suggested bringing a potentially depressed child to the hospital where they can be treated and put on medication if need be.
Dr. Michael Lefson works at the Chisasibi Hospital and was one of the professionals who addressed the youth at the Mitchuap. He said that suicide comes in many forms.
“Many of the people [who commit suicide] are severely depressed and they don’t see another way out,” Dr. Lefson said. “That ends up being the final pathway for many people. For others it’s impulsive. They have mood swings, one day they are feeling okay, and the next they’re unpredictable. Other cases can be related to being under the influence of alcohol and drugs and doing something they wouldn’t do under normal circumstances such as commit suicide.
“If you’ve identified a family member as suicidal, you can notify youth protection if they’re under 18. It’s a little harder if it’s an adult, but you should still try to help in any way you can,” he added.
If you or anyone you know is depressed and needs help, please call the emergency social worker at 819-855-9002 in Chisasibi or call your local hospital.