A spate of teen suicides over the last year and a half has brought the difficult issue to the fore in Red Deer, with community information sessions, fundraising events and meetings held to bring awareness and show support.
Now, one group that sprang up in February following the sixth suicide of a Red Deer teen is hoping its effort will engender hope among those who see suicide as a way out.
With more than 7,000 members, the Facebook group Suicide Awareness Red Deer, its #timeforchange has made it its mission to raise awareness and provide a safe place to talk about the six young lives that were lost.
Trevor Jenner, one of the page’s administrators, had a plan two months ago to bring the issue right in front of the eyes of Red Deerians. The plan was to stage a fake suicide at the intersection of Molly Banister Drive and Gaetz Avenue during the noon hour one day in September — a young person was to walk into the intersection and put a fake handgun to his head while the scene was filmed, to become part of a public awareness video.
The idea was to make the fake suicide as real as possible so as to shock people and force them to take note of the prevalence of suicide locally and around the world.
“We want real reactions, because some people do do it publicly. We want natural reactions. We want to hit people in a place where they don’t normally want to go. We’re at a point where it’s turning into a pandemic,” said Jenner in mid-August.
But neither the RCMP nor the City of Red Deer would support the idea of staging a death at a traffic-heavy public location, and Jenner and the group were forced to change tack. It took all of September to come up with an alternate arrangement, and finally on Sept. 29 about a dozen participants ranging in age from 14 to their mid-30s faked a suicide for their video in a controlled environment at Bower Ponds.
Jenner said the alternate arrangement resulted in a shoot that went “phenomenal,” with the weather turning from gloomy to bright to match the attitude the group is trying to convey.
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around how well that went and how our final scene really impacted a lot of us,” said Jenner.
“All our hearts stopped, and once our actor finished, we were like ‘Wow.’ ”
The shoot was organized so that the public would not be exposed to the scripted drama. Jenner said at first he was disappointed that the public mock suicide could not go ahead, but ultimately he was glad for the perspective the alteration afforded him and the diminished pressure the controlled shoot placed on participants.
While the RCMP got involved once it caught wind of the original plan and successfully dissuaded the group from doing the public display, Cpl. Sarah Knelsen with Red Deer City RCMP said the force was not made aware of the revised plan, and that could have made for a dangerous situation.
“If the police are called and we see somebody with a firearm and we don’t know, we take it as what we perceive it to be and we treat any firearm that we see as a firearm . . . . So it’s always better if they advise us what they are doing so we are aware and nothing bad will happen if we are called,” said Knelsen.
The executive director of Red Deer’s Suicide Information and Education Services did not agree with the group’s initial approach when notified in August.
“There’s a lot of post-traumatic stress that comes along with suicide. When people are exposed to that it can cause a lot of different ranges of emotions. For us as an agency, this is not something that we would support,” said Laura MacNeill at the time.
This week, MacNeill said she had not been made aware of the revised shoot and “our stance remains the same, that we want awareness to be done in a positive fashion. We want to look at providing positive mental health and tools for that.”
Jenner said the group’s main goal through the video project is to raise awareness and bring attention to the issue, which affects all ages and all classes. With the Facebook page including members from many countries around the world, he said the finished product stands to have a big effect on many people.
“I have friends in the States that are begging me, ‘You need to get this out!’ ” said Jenner, 25.
He said the group is planning on working with area high and middle schools to affect change. It is also hoping to organize a T-shirt sale at a mall later this month.
While the group has reached out to Suicide Information and Education Services for resources to hand out at a future T-shirt sale, MacNeill stressed that the group is a separate entity from the local non-profit organization, which provides educational supports, counselling and therapy while making referrals in the community. She added that through her organization and others there are well-established resources and supports to deal with the issue of suicide, and those without training or a background in suicide prevention might not provide the best help to those in need.
On the whole, MacNeill said Red Deer has responded “wonderfully” since the six suicides came to light earlier this year.
“People have stood up and are talking about suicide. We get calls all the time from people who have now learned about what we do as an agency and are accessing services they may not have been aware of. Red Deer has had an incredible year of supporting one another and the community should be very proud of itself,” she said.
A new support group for survivors of suicide will be starting up in January, and MacNeill said anybody wanting customized workshops can call the office at 403-342-4966.
As for the video project, a second fake suicide is to be filmed. While the first shoot focused on public suicides and males, the second will feature a fake suicide done in private and focus on females.
Jenner said the goal is to have the video finished by the end of the month, at which point it will be uploaded to YouTube.