Advocates say new suicide counselling program ‘a step in the right direction’

Troy Fleece/Regina Leader-Post. Jude Ratt, left and his wife Frannie held photos of their daughter Betty Roberts and niece Ariana Roberts who they have lost to suicide on Tuesday, May 17, 2022 in Regina at the Legislative Building.

“I think any help is welcomed,” Jude Ratt said. “No matter how long it’s been since the incident… No matter what, there are triggers all the time.”

Trillian Reynoldson, Regina Leader-Post

Jude Ratt says the province’s new rapid access counselling program for those affected by suicide is a step in the right direction, even if it has taken “too long.”

“I think it would have come much further if they had acted on it right away,” he said in an interview.

Ratt and his wife Frannie travelled over six hours from La Ronge to the Legislative Building nearly two years ago, to join other families sharing their stories about losing loved ones to suicide. They called on the province to create a bipartisan committee to study the mental health and addictions crisis.

“We had really high hopes when we went there and it seemed like everything we said fell on deaf ears at the time,” he said. “I felt really disrespected at the time and I was angry coming out of there. They didn’t acknowledge that we were there, really.”

NDP MLA Doyle Vermette said the committee would have hearings with MLAs, families, frontline workers and those impacted from suicide in order to make recommendations to the provincial government.

“To me, it would have been easy, and it would have been such a good message to everyone, saying ‘We’re taking this crisis on and we’re going to help families and those that are struggling,’” Vermette said on Thursday.

Ratt said they poured their hearts out, opening up fairly fresh wounds. They lost their daughter, Betty Roberts, to suicide in 2021 when she was 33 years old.

She left behind four children.

“We told her we would help her at any time but she didn’t reach out to us, so we were kind of kept in the dark about a lot of stuff and we were helpless with the situation,” Ratt said, adding the outcome could have been different if help was more available.

Ratt would still like to see the Saskatchewan government form a bipartisan committee to help prevent suicides.

“I’m sure the majority of people have been affected by suicide one way or another,” he said. “It’d be nice to have that committee to be able to go out and talk to these people, find out what are the main effects of what happened and what could have been done to help out a little bit better.”

Ratt said the province’s free, rapid access counselling service could be helpful to him and his family. It is offered over the phone and virtually to friends and family members of people who have died by suicide or have been significantly injured in a suicide attempt.

“I think any help is welcomed,” he said. “No matter how long it’s been since the incident… No matter what, there are triggers all the time.”

Vermette said the new counselling resource is a “very small start” as the number of suicides increase in the province.

Vermette’s suicide prevention bill, which required the Ministry of Health to establish a suicide prevention strategy that recognizes suicide as a health and safety priority, passed in 2021, after being rejected in 2019 and 2020. In a statement on Wednesday, NDP mental health and addictions critic Vicki Mowat said the Sask. Party has not fully implemented the bill. 

In a written statement, the province said the suicide prevention bill formalizes the province’s Pillars for Life program as its plan to address and prevent suicide, and that it has supported a wide range of programs and initiatives since Pillars for Life was introduced.

This includes the 9-8-8 Suicide Crisis Helpline, the in-school-based Mental Health Capacity Building initiative, funding to support the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations’ mental wellness on-the-land camps, Roots of Hope, a provincial safe medication disposal program, the expansion of Police and Crisis Teams, and ongoing support for a suicide prevention public awareness campaign.