Creating opportunities to talk about mental health, suicide, and hope

September 10, 2019

“May I give you a hug?”

As a health promoter, this kind of positive feedback is not usually how we determine the success of our programs but as I gladly accepted this sweet woman’s hug of appreciation I knew we had made an impact.

She had just finished watching the AfterWhys stage play that tells the story of four seniors whose lives are impacted in different ways by mental health challenges. Yet, the play has a clear focus on the spirit of resilience, strength, and most of all, hope.

After our hug, this woman went on to thank me repeatedly for hosting this event. She appreciated that we (WDG Public Health and the Suicide Awareness Council of Wellington-Dufferin), were bringing attention to this important topic for individuals like her, over age 60, who find it difficult to talk about mental health and even more so, suicide.

Seniors can be at higher risk for suicide: Experiencing the loss of a partner, a loss of independence or function, physical pain or illness, financial strain and social isolation can all play a role.

The Council wanted to find a unique and heartfelt way to educate and get seniors more comfortable talking about mental health. In partnership with a local playwright, a stage play was created based on local seniors’ stories about their experiences with suicide. Watch the short video below to learn more about how the AfterWhys play came to be:

After the play finishes, a community educator uses scenes from the play as examples to talk to the audience about warning signs in seniors, common myths about suicide and what we can do to help ourselves and others. Everyone leaves with the clear message of how important it is for your mental health to talk with someone!

One of the common myths we hope to ‘bust’ is that by asking someone if they’re having thoughts of suicide, you may put the idea in their head. This is not the case. Talking openly and clearly with someone about suicide lessens the stigma around mental health issues. Even if they deny having thoughts of suicide, what you’ve done is still helpful. You’ve shown them you are a safe person to talk to in the future if they need to and will listen in a supportive way.

Suicide is complex. Talking about suicide isn’t easy. But it’s necessary to make a difference. Our audience has told us how impactful it is learning about suicide through the storytelling that happens in the play. They get to sit back and watch the story unfold and learn alongside the characters on stage.

Yet the part our audience really finds valuable is the discussion that takes place after the play with the community educator. It provides a supportive space to reflect on the themes in the play, share experiences and ask questions.

Attend an AfterWhys event

September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. In recognition of this, WDG Public Health and the Suicide Awareness Council are hosting three AfterWhys events across the region in September to continue to spread awareness about suicide prevention.

The events are FREE to attend and are open to all ages. Registration is optional but helps us plan audience numbers.

Hanover: Tuesday September 24, 2 to 3:30 p.m.
P&H Centre, Lion’s Den Room
269 7th Avenue
Hanover, ON N4N 2H5
Learn more and register

Orangeville: Wednesday September 25, 2:30 to 4 p.m.
Montgomery Village Retirement Residence
155 Riddell Road
Orangeville, ON L9W 6R4
Learn more and register

Mount Forest: Monday September 30, 2 to 3:30 p.m.
Mount Forest Public Library
118 Main Street North
Mount Forest, ON N0G 2L0C
Learn more and register

In addition to the hugs, being involved with the AfterWhys play has been rewarding in other ways. In health promotion, we’re always looking for ways to reach an audience we don’t typically reach. This is a perfect example of using a creative approach to health education to achieve our goal – which is to spread awareness about suicide prevention and promote positive mental health. 

I encourage you to attend one of our AfterWhys performances this September. It’s an opportunity to, perhaps, step outside your comfort zone and learn how to support your own mental health, as well as others in your life, within a safe and supportive setting.

Plus, if you’re like me and love a good play on words, you owe it to yourself to come to an AfterWhys performance to learn about the clever meaning behind the name of the play…hope to see you there!

Local mental health supports:

Here 24/7 Waterloo-Wellington 1-844-437-3247

24.7 Crisis Support Dufferin 1-888-811-2222

Lindsay Cline
Health Promotion Specialist