In the seventeen years that Nada Shureih, now 34, has been living in the Sea to Sky corridor, she has been personally affected by at least a dozen suicides.
The most recently released figures from the BC Coroners Service, (from a summary of suicide deaths between 2006 and 2016 posted on June 18, 2018,) indicate that of the 599 suicides in British Columbia in 2016, 74 per cent were males, and 34 took place in the North Shore/Coast Garibaldi Health Services Delivery Area.
In her work as the co-owner of Pemberton's busy and vibrant Stay Wild Natural Health store and juice bar, Shureih gets a glimpse of the community's overall health, and she's aware of the levels of depression, anxiety, stress, as well as bipolar and schizophrenia, that people are trying to manage, through nutrition, herbs and other means. Maybe it's that lens, maybe it's her personal circle, or maybe it's her real, non-judgmental vibe that causes her to be privy to a lot of people's darker moments, but she's not wanting to go it alone anymore.
"Unfortunately I have experienced this enough, that I feel we could do more," says Shureih. "I have helped people who are in crisis situations on several occasions. It's really surprised me to be reached out to, but I've never had any formal training. I'm doing my best, but if there's a formal training created by experts in the field, to me, taking that opportunity is a no-brainer. This course can help us be better equipped to help people and we're lucky to have access to this type of training in our community."
Shureih was put in touch with Sherry Waters from the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) by a friend, but her inquiry about registering for a course, personally, soon morphed into offering to host CMHA's Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) program in Pemberton. She was finally galvanized to action after a recent suicide and her friend's grief—isn't there something we could have done?
"I was hanging out with him that morning! There could have been signs," said the friend.
ASIST is a two-day interactive workshop in suicide intervention and personal safety planning and has been shown to be effective at increasing knowledge, skill and willingness to intervene, as well as helping reduce the risk of suicide.
"I was nervous about diving in and being the face of organizing and promoting this," admits Shureih, "but with the amount of people struggling with mental health, depression and suicide, the more people trained to be able to help, the better."
Shureih knows from experience that when you finally do put into words that you are struggling, it helps if those words land in the right lap. Not long after Shureih and her partner moved to Pemberton, displaced from Whistler by the Olympic wave of evictions, she fell pregnant, and bought Be Natural, the health food store, where she was working.
She ran the store for five years, while raising a daughter, and completing a program in holistic nutrition. Six months after her second daughter was born, the store burned down.
A midnight phone call, from her old landlord, woke her to a new reality: "Nada. Your store is on fire. The fire chief is about to call you."
The chief's call followed immediately: "We're about to dump a lot of water on your store. Is there anything you want saved?"
She reflects back now, this side of the mess, and sees it as a gift, a reprieve, a chance to reimagine and heal. At the time she lost the store, Shureih was overwhelmed, burnt out and quietly dealing, or not dealing, with post-partum depression.
"It took someone close to me to confront me numerous times before I finally acknowledged it. I was not able to open up because I didn't understand it myself. I felt so trapped in my own silence about it, because I didn't even know how to put what I was feeling into words that made sense. I just felt that I needed to smarten up and deal with it. Fortunately, my friend, being a naturopathic doctor who specializes in pre- and post-natal care was a convenient person to talk to and she recognized the red flags."
It's all very well to talk about reducing the stigma around mental health, says Shureih. But there needs to be a next step. There needs to be safe spaces for those brave words seeking help to land.
"Two days is a lot in the middle of summer," acknowledges Shureih, thinking about meeting the registration numbers required to run the program. She notes that the 16-hour course is certified and can count as continuing education for some programs or professions. Some employers, too, will cover it.
After talking with Shureih, I think about my friend, now on the fifth anniversary of her suicide, and consider trading two days out of my summer to have her back in the world, in my life. No question I'd make that trade. Just for the mere chance of it. No question at all.