Historically, middle-aged men have been, and continue to be, a high-risk population in the community in relation to suicide.
This is not specific to Kahnawake, as per Statistics Canada; men in general have a higher rate of suicides within different age groups across the country.
According to Rebecca D’Amico, team leader of Secondary Prevention at Kahnawake Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS), many different factors contribute to this occurrence, including substance abuse, past or current unresolved trauma, poverty, and lack of proper resources for shelter and basic needs.
The pandemic has exasperated the situation by adding social isolation and the lack of social support to the list.
However, it is important to keep in mind that these risk factors are not gender-specific and can affect everyone.
The good news, according to D’Amico, is that KSCS has seen an increase in middle-aged men requesting services over the past year.
“We are trying to target a lot of our resources towards that population because we know that typically speaking, they are not going to reach out initially. They might do it as a last resort instead of preventatively,” said D’Amico.
One of the resources that D’Amico is referring to is the men’s virtual support group called Lifting the Burden – Men’s Talking Circle, which was started back in January.
Tom Dearhouse, the traditional support counselor at the Family Wellness Center at KSCS, is running the support group, which utilizes traditional knowledge to support and uplift men.
“We thought that men were having a heavy time in the last year,” said Dearhouse. “The women in the community have a couple of support groups going, but there was nothing for the men.”
Dearhouse said the purpose of the group is to create an environment where men can share their thoughts and feelings about things that are happening in their lives. It was a chance to lift them up by creating connections.
The traditional support counselor said he got the idea after attending a men’s support group last summer.
“We thought it would be a good idea to do the same for the men of the community,” he said.
Back in the fall, Dearhouse, along with Codey Martin, who is studying Social Work at McGill University, put together an outline for the group.
“Just like we suspected, the isolation was getting to some people,” said Dearhouse.
“Some people are dealing with evictions. Some people are having a hard time being isolated and away from family members. Either they are living alone, or they have lost family members,” he explained.
The COVID-19 restrictions related to funeral protocols and gatherings have been a major adjustment, according to Dearhouse.
Thus far, the group, which meets every Tuesday at 6 p.m. on Zoom, has been a huge success.
Next Tuesday is their last meeting, but Dearhouse said that because of the positive reception it has received, they are already planning on bringing it back in a couple of weeks.
In the first few weeks, there were 10 men that participated, but the number then grew to 15, which is the maximum number of participants allowed.
“Like any group, it evolved from getting to know each other and being supportive to talking about mental wellness and things we can do during this time. They love getting together and sharing,” said Dearhouse.
The group has also had guest speakers that come and share their knowledge on different subjects.
“One man is taking care of a terminally ill parent. So, we come together around that, and it is ongoing. One or two of the guys have lost friends of theirs within the last year, so grief and loss were on their minds,” he continued.
Community member Timmy Norton, who overcame substance abuse, joined the group from the very beginning and called it an “excellent” program.
“It is not just surface level,” said Norton. “We talk about our feelings and what is happening in the community, what is happening with us, how we are dealing with stuff every day, our work and family life. It has been a big help for me for sure.”
He continued by saying that in order for men to protect and participate productively in the community, they have to take care of themselves first.
“This new participant lost his father to suicide a few years ago,” said Dearhouse. “He didn’t know his father that well. He is always welcoming stories about his father, and it just so happened that a few of the men in the group knew his dad.”
The exchanges are sometimes very sad, but also very heartwarming and are part of the cycle of grief, said the counselor.
“As men, we should be taking care of each other and watching out for one another. This sentiment came after one man committed suicide recently.
“The men were stunned and said that they had no idea, and that goes to show that we don’t really know everyone’s story unless they share it. Imagine if he would have been in the group? It may have turned out differently,” explained Dearhouse.
He said that a young man’s death last week by drug overdose also had a deep impact on the group.
In terms of suicide prevention, Dearhouse said that men need to check in on each other, and the older ones should mentor the younger guys that might be struggling.
“We can guide people to the appropriate services. We don’t want anybody else to get hurt or suffer needlessly when help is just a phone call away,” said Dearhouse.