By Natalie Daley
I’m sitting down at Dose Cafe with Emily Kemp, Communications Specialist at Revelstoke Women’s Shelter Society. Within only a few minutes of knowing each other we’re digging deep into the social climate of Revelstoke, talking about the various consequences of living in a town whose modus operandi is to live life to the fullest. “It’s a sweet life but the expectation to always be living that is not a reality,” Emily says. “You’re going to have down days.” This is my second time living in Revelstoke — the first was, like many, an experiment in mountain town living with nothing but time, a part-time serving job, and the drive to get in as many days snowboarding as possible until I headed back east.
Fast forward five years and I’m back, job in hand and a commitment to making it work. With a management role at an arts-based mental health non-profit focused on awareness and a side gig in running suicide prevention workshops (not a mouthful at all), my new outlook on town is to get to the heart of what connects us all: our mental health.
Enter my impromptu coffee date with Emily. We chatted about the isolation that can accompany moving to a town that — while exciting and bustling — can feel overwhelmingly lonely at the same time. You know the drill. With so many transient folks, the effort to meet people can be all encompassing. Our instinct is to ask, ‘Are you sticking around, or just here for the season?’ as a measure of how much we should invest in a friendship. Not to mention the housing crisis (basement-suite living for the win), weeks of all-smoke-and-no-fun, and the impending shoulder season where keeping your endorphins in check under cloud cover is a necessity.
So, it’s no wonder why even though we live in an unbelievably beautiful spot, the effort required to make it work can take a serious toll on our wellbeing. From the outside it looks like Revelstokians have it all, so it’s easy for our complaints to feel invalid. In 2016, National Geographic wrote a two-part story focusing on the rise of suicide in mountain towns in the US, dropping the truth bomb that “the mere notion of living in paradise can amplify one’s feelings of depression and isolation.”
I bring this forward to pose to you: how can we help one another? How can we make town feel a little less isolating? How can we have deeper and more compassionate conversations? Lately I’ve had amazing interactions with Revelstokians both short and long term, and have been inspired by the solidarity that exists under the layer of stoke. Below are some of the folks and unique programs in town making a difference:
The mouthful acronym you’ve seen around town, the Child and Youth Mental Health Substance Use collaborative has more offerings than just for youth. They connect most mental health service providers in town to develop an ecosystem of support, and host evenings like the Sept. 10 Silent Vigil for World Suicide Prevention Day. Do you have a wallet card yet? It lists all the mental health services in town in case you need to reach out. To learn more, connect with the amazing Stacie at revelstokecymhsu.wordpress.com/
I’ve witnessed a desire from people to have safe spaces to talk about taboo topics like mental illness and suicide and to find out what small actions can be done to help support others. In B.C., 500 individuals die by suicide each year, and as I’m sure some of you know from experience, it is often the people you least expect who are struggling. safeTALK is a workshop that empowers people to start conversations about suicide and learn how to spot and approach those who may be struggling. Some community workshops have been held, but employers in town are realizing speaking about suicide can no longer be swept under the rug. Take Avalanche Canada. This November as part of their staff-wide training they’re hosting a safeTALK workshop for the first time, and major kudos for doing so. Gilles Valade, AvCan’s Executive Director, says it’s critical. “I suspect most of us have unfortunately lost friends, colleagues or acquaintances to suicide. If there is anything that we can do to help prevent even one person to get to a point where ending their life is the only option, then we must do it. Learning about what to do and how to talk about this is a concrete and vital step.” Want to learn more? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about local trainings in the community or for your business.
A gap in men’s services has been addressed with the ‘Moving Mountains’ (MM) group, hosting gatherings that include campfires, frisbee, and hiking, to name a few. Men in B.C. are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. 53% of those men are above the age of 40. MM gathers together weekly in a non-threatening environment, building community through activity where people can be as involved as they’d like. Want to find out about the next adventure? Email email@example.com
Revelstoke Women’s Shelter Society (RWSS)
Our relationships (whether they be intimate, family or friendships) have a huge impact on our outlook and success in life. Toxic relationships in particular can take a significant emotional toll. Add the effects of depression and isolation, and people undoubtedly cling to these relationships as a life raft. The RWSS provides a safe space and women are encouraged to get in touch for a chat (24/7 at 250-837-1111), support and programming: revelstokewomensshelter.com
With a bold objective to increase awareness of death and help people “make the most of their (finite) lives,” Death Cafe is a group-directed discussion of death with no agenda, and acts as more of a discussion group rather than grief support or counselling. Hosted the last Monday of each month at Dose, facilitator Theresa is committed to examining death and loss on a social level. “We’ve medicalized and sterilized death, and we can’t celebrate it like we do birth,” Theresa says. “It’s amazing how much laughter there is [at Death Cafes]. We all have death in common, so there’s no way that commonality and unity doesn’t happen.” Intrigued? Find out about the next one in town: https://deathcafe.com/ or contact Theresa at firstname.lastname@example.org
Despite its many challenges, Revelstoke is a pretty special place. For a town of this size to offer as many community supports as it does is revolutionary in my mind. The smallest of actions can go a long way in sparking meaningful dialogue, especially when mental health is our own internal way of processing the world, and ultimately something we’ll be talking about for the rest of our lives. To be impacted by something we all confront, yet not be talking about it fully as a community seems counterintuitive to this experience we call life. So, let’s start!