By Mallorie Rast
If a 747 Boeing airplane filled with Canadian passengers crashed to the ground with zero survivors every month, would not someone start an inquiry? If parents discovered what was the second leading cause of death in Canadian young people under the age of 25, would there not be some family discussions held to avoid this loss?
Canadians are faced with these numbers and yet the concern of suicide remains shrouded with silence in many households, covered over as an unpleasant or “taboo” subject. Four young women from the West Central area seek to change this, through education and empowerment, their aim is to spread a message of awareness, but beyond that, they also seek to bring a message of hope.
Callie, Jaclyn and Shalyn Kennedy are the three co-founders of the Life Is Worth Living (LIWL) Foundation, a non-profit organization with the aim to both spread awareness and decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide. The foundation was officially recognized as a non-profit organization in 2017, but the sisters say that it was really established several years earlier.
In 2004, the sisters lost their eldest sister, 19-year-old Brianne to suicide. “It very literally was the worst day of our lives,” recalled Callie. “She was beautiful, talented, and she brought so much joy to her family, all of the emotions we felt during that day cannot be explained.”
It was a few years later when Callie and Jaclyn were sophomores in High School, that the idea for their foundation was born out of a school project. After their presentation on the topic of mental illness, the sisters were pulled aside by their teacher who encouraged them to consider doing the presentation to other classes and schools. “It’s to her that we owe the very first idea,” says Callie.
From there, LIWL has grown to include speaking engagements, its own online clothing line with 100% of the proceeds donated to Canadian Mental Health Initiatives, and a message of hope and encouragement to those who need a helping hand. This past spring, Callie and Jaclyn partnered with Kim Derkach, a friend from their University of Saskatchewan days, to create their for-profit organization, The Life is Worth Living Way.
The sisters said that their focus on raising awareness has not changed, and with every passing year, their passion to create change has only increased. They noted that issues like mental illness and suicide are often not topics of discussion within families and social circles until it affects someone on a personal level–but waiting until a crisis comes does not prepare a person to open up and reach out. “People will not talk about it until they are comfortable about it, so let’s make it comfortable!” Callie explained that in the face of appalling statistics, now is the time for action.
“People feel free to come to their doctor and discuss their physical health,” agreed Jaclyn, now a Registered Nurse. “If people can come to their doctor and feel comfortable discussing their flu and colds, we need to make changes so that they can feel equally comfortable talking about their mental health.”
It is time to talk about mental health and the things that cause deaths by suicide, it is time to let people know that they can reach out and talk to someone about their struggles and receive help, and it is time for people to let go of stigmas surrounding mental health and suicide. With these actions, an everyday person can make a difference, they can impact lives for the positive, and perhaps even save someone’s life.
Apart from inspiring the public to become more aware of this topic, the sisters also bring a message of hope and encouragement to those who are struggling with mental illnesses. “Don’t give up, keep fighting, your life is worth living. Do not be deceived, your brain might tell you that nobody cares, but we do, and you cannot measure the impact you have on the people and world around you.”
For those struggling with mental illness or with suicide, it is important to reach out to trusted family members, friends and professionals. Kennedy sisters have compiled a list of resources, at https://www.lifeisworthlivingbck.com/resources. Additional resources include the West Central Crisis Centre at 306.463.6655 or at their after-hours number 306.463.1860.
Crisis Services Canada has a Suicide Prevention and Support line at 1.833.456.4566 or via text at 45645.
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