Column: I hate #BellLetsTalk. But some people really do need to talk

My late sister was one of them

Jan. 29 is Bell’s Let’s Talk Day. It’s the day when one of the largest companies in Canada encourages the nation to speak about mental health. More and more companies, agencies and individuals are taking part every year.

I hate it.

I hate it because it reminds me of my sister, Melanie, a registered nurse of 14 years who left her workplace, Saskatoon City Hospital, in the middle of a shift on May 3, 2015. She bought some rope, drove out of town to a secluded spot, and subsequently hung herself.

I hate it because despite my efforts, my mother’s and Melanie’s boyfriend’s efforts, we failed in stopping her. She succeeded in ending her life.

I hate it in that she was actually in a facility with every mental health resource available to her, even a psych ward, and she purposely left that place to do this to herself.

I hate it because I miss her terribly, despite the fact we rarely got along.

And every January, Bell’s Let’s Talk Day reminds me of this.

And yet, as much as I truly hate this, hate the darkest chapter of my life being brought forward again and again every January, I think it’s necessary. That’s because there are others who continue to struggle with their own mental health.

A few months ago, a friend asked me to look into mental health support for the oilpatch. He pointed out there’s a farm stress line, but nothing he knew of for the oilpatch.

He spoke of how difficult the last five years have been since the downturn took hold.

This afternoon I got a phone call for a University of Regina professor, asking about the impact of the downturn on the oilpatch since he didn’t think the statistics told the full story. He got an earful, and may have been late for class. There’s a lot to say.

I told him about all the companies who cut their staff by half from 2014 to 2017, about wage cuts to the tune of 20 per cent that were nearly universal. I told him about 20 per cent vacancy rates in towns that used to have zero vacancy.

What I did not have time to tell him was how all this financial pain has caused psychological pain.

So at my friend’s request, I set about looking for what sort of help is out there. You’ll see the stories online at pipelinenews.ca and eventually in print.

I found that, from the health district perspective, they see things in a more general manner. But there is support there, and an intake phone line that acts something like a triage for people in need of help.

I found out there’s a website called 211 Saskatchewan (sk.211.ca) that is chock full of links for all sorts of programs, including mental health, and crisis lines. They might not be oilfield specific, in the way the farm help line is, but it’s something.

I also found that the health district didn’t really see a profound distinction in mental health cases directly tied to the oilpatch and its downturn. But local, private counselling service Envision Counselling and Support Centre, most definitely did.

And Envision offers and employee assistance program that many people don’t even know they might have coverage for, in their health benefits package from work.

When you get that little book of benefits, you might notice how much coverage you get for your kids’ braces or glasses. You might notice you can see a chiropractor a certain number of times a year. You might even be reassured if you break your leg or have a heart attack in Minot, North Dakota, you won’t go bankrupt. 

But did you know you might also have coverage for counselling? I didn’t know that, and I don’t think my friend did, either.

Envision has most definitely seen the stress of the downturn affect its clients. Its clientele is now nearly half male, and that is a big change from several years ago.

Such counselling may not be effective for everyone. It wasn’t for Melanie. She talked to someone on the phone whom she never met, and never would. So it didn’t work for her. But that doesn’t mean a support line won’t work for someone else.

This downturn takes a toll on you, having spent the last five years struggling to keep afloat, not just businesses, but individuals. You wonder if the doors will stay open one more year, if you can make your mortgage payments one more month. No one I know ever thought in 2014 we would see five years of this. Today, oil again dropped to US$52 a barrel.

The February edition of Pipeline Newsexplains how the drilling rig fleet has dropped from 811 to 515 in five years, and might drop another 100.

I see the strain in people’s faces, in their conversations. I increasingly see it in myself. I know that this downturn has had an impact on me. I feel it every day. I spent seven years asking people how great everything was. The last five years, not so much.

I’m a strong believer the best social program is a job. And maybe there’s not much we can do right now to ensure job security. But there are services and people out there who can and do help those who need it.

I just wish Melanie would have gone down that path, instead of the one she chose. We live with that pain every day, and it never goes away.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor of Pipeline News. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@sasktel.net.

© Copyright Pipeline News

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