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Olds suicide awareness conference speakers offer hope

The Conversation Has To Happen — Hope was held at Pomeroy Inn & Suites in Olds

OLDS — The latest edition of The Conversation Has To Happen — Hope, a conference on suicide and depression, took place Feb. 20 at the Pomeroy Inn & Suites.

During the roughly four-hour event, participants heard from three main speakers:

• Terry Hickok of Didsbury, who suffered from anxiety and depression for decades;

• Mari Lee Ayers, a director of the Burden Bearers Counselling Centre, which operates in Sundre and Rocky Mountain House; and

• Rick More of Red Deer. He and his wife Cindy lost one of their children, Lindsey, to suicide in September 2015. They now run the Smiles Thru Lindsey Founation, which is dedicated to mental health awareness.

Hickok told the crowd  that while growing up on a farm in the Peace country, he suffered with anxiety, depression and bullying.

It got so bad that Hickok even ran away from home and tried committing suicide a few times.

“I was literally dying,” he said in regard to one suicide attempt.

However, with the support of his wife and mother-in-law as well as the help of a doctor who prescribed some medicine – even shock treatment -- and his faith, Hickok turned his life around.

He and his father, who he said could be pretty abusive, have also reconciled to some degree.

“I guess the gist of my story is I want people to know that it's OK to speak, because I couldn't do it. I was so afraid. And to not quit looking for help until you find what works, because that was the thing,” Hickok said.

“I just, I tried a little bit. It’s when I finally just said, ‘no, we're gonna keep going.’ I got so desperate, I had no choice, right? “Don't let it get to that point where you're that desperate, I guess.

“If you're in that place, if you're struggling with depression or anxiety, it's real. It's not anything spooky or crazy. It's just another disease that people can have, like cancer, or heart disease.”

More said Lindsey’s suicide was a huge shock that he and his wife just didn’t see coming. He still feels guilty about that.

“There is nothing that’ll ever prepare you for the loss of a child. The horror of it is unexplainable. You just learn to get through every day,” he said in a video he played as part of his talk. “You learn to live with it.”

Rick and Cindy concluded years later that Lindsey was bipolar.

They were both extremely gratified and amazed by the outpouring of love from her workmates and the community that occurred after her death.

Employees at the Great Canadian Brewhouse where she had worked raised $50,000.

More than 1,000 people turned up at her funeral.

At that funeral, some business people and others decided to create a foundation to help raise awareness about mental health. That became the Smiles Thru Lindsey Foundation.

“That power to see those many people that stood beside us was really something to witness. It gave us strength,” More said.  

“That fund today has raised over $650,000 for mental health, and it's raised by the community.”

“We know that we’re making a difference, Lindsey’s making a difference.”

After the funeral, a coalition of business people and residents concerned about suicides in the community met in Calgary with Sheldon Kennedy, lead director of  the Luna Child and Youth Advocacy Centre, formerly called the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre.

More and other members of the coalition were very impressed with that centre and from there, plans to create the Central Alberta Child Advocacy Centre (CACAC) were launched.

A vast three-storey, 69,000-square foot new CACAC building, now officially called the Sheldon Kennedy Centre of Excellence, is being created in Red Deer.

More said $12 million has been raised for the project. He said some subcontractors believe in the concept so much that they’re doing work at no charge.

One floor will be leased out to Alberta Health Services. The top floor will be for sexual assault victims and the middle floor will be the Lindsey More Youth Mental Health and Addiction Hub.

“The impact and the lives it's going to change, we’re proud to hang our name on that,” More said.

“That model is going to work, because once that mortgage is paid, which will be probably in six years, even less, the money will be coming in there will be no need to fundraise,” he said.

More said the current generation is much more open to talking about suicide and mental health than his generation has been.

“Tragedy will happen in our lives, one way or another unfortunately. How we deal with it will define us,” he said.

Ayers said we all need to do things that give us hope.

She said they can include creating things, playing in sand, singing, and dancing.

She said another key is surrounding yourself with friends who have a positive outlook and will be there for you when you need help.

“We need each other to cultivate hope,” Ayers said. “We need to continue this conversation beyond this room about lack of hope and how to help build hope in other people and be there for each other.

“We need to carry a pocket hug and maybe give it to somebody who’s in need.

“We just need to look around and extend a hand and ask the question ‘are you OK?’”

Conversation Has To Happen events have been held in Olds since Andrea Hawiuk spurred the first one in 2016. Mayor Judy Dahl praised Hawiuk and her fellow organizers for all they’ve done to arrange them.

The crowd was also treated to a few songs from a trio of gospel singers.

Dennis Thompson served as MC for the evening.

“If you know someone who needs something, some intervention of some sort, please take it. Don’t leave here without the opportunity to help somebody. That’s why we’re here. We want to let people have some hope,” he said.

“You can understand why I say this conversation has to keep going.”

Thompson noted a donation box had been set out at the front of the room for donations.

Doug Collie

About the Author: Doug Collie

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