Sandra McArthur is taking steps to bridge the gap between communities and awareness on suicide.
On May 12 McArthur took her first step of the Community Compassion Walk, a just-over-1200km trek from Prince Rupert to Kamloops.
McArthur lost one of her sons to suicide, something she says has inspired her to try to raise awareness on the issue.
She adds that the journey, which will take her across much of B.C.’s North Coast and Central Interior, was started with the simple goal of creating dialogue.
“That’s where the answers come from, dialogue,” she said in an interview with The Interior News.
“When our son died … he had one card in his pocket and on that one card he had one name and one phone number and that was his champion that he could actually turn to when he needed help.”
McArthur said that from this came the idea of Community Champions, people that individuals experiencing mental health issues know that they can go to in the event of a crisis.
Holding a card which has space for someone to write their name, phone number and email on the back, she explains that for someone in a desperate situation, not having to memorize a number and being able to just pull out a card can be extremely helpful.
She adds that, on top of creating dialogue, the walk is done with the hope of helping to end the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.
“How did our loved one get to that point where they felt that they were hopeless and if [they were] so hopeless then how do we help another person not feel this way?”
Discussing how she would like to see the conversation around mental health changed, McArthur brought up an interesting point about helplines for those experiencing mental health crises.
She said that while she fully supports the idea of them, she would like to see helplines consolidated into less numbers, giving the example of something similar to the star-69 last-call return function on phones.
Pointing to another card she hands out to people she meets, she notes that it has 11 different hotlines, all with slightly different-albeit-related functions.
On top of the resources she has been passing out to the communities she visits, McArthur also brought a number of buffalo pins with her, accompanied by the phrase “Into the Storm”. She explained that the animal has special significance — her late son had a tattoo of a buffallo skull on his head.
Her husband explained further, building off the notion that being a Community Champion is more than just being there for someone and using the example of buffallos, which are anecdotally known to run directly into storms as opposed to trying to circumvent them.
“I’m not just necessarily being sympathetic or empathetic, I also want to be there with you, I want to help you through the challenge,” he said.
McArthur’s walk is scheduled to bring her to Kamloops on June 21.