Dr. James Irvine and Lac La Ronge Chief Tammy Cook-Searson.

Suicide is a tough topic, but leaders in the north know they can’t afford to avoid talking about it.

This month, four girls have taken their lives in northern Saskatchewan. Two of the girls were from Stanley Mission, one was from La Ronge, and the most recent death was a girl from Deschambault Lake. All were under the age of 14.

On Wednesday, MBC aired an hour-long interview with Lac La Ronge Chief Tammy Cook-Searson and Medical Health Officer Dr. James Irvine, who represents the three northern health regions. They acknowledge there are still immediate risks, but are also looking at long-term ways to strengthen the communities in the north.

Irvine said “clusters” of suicides like this can lead to further attempts within a community. Losing a friend, family member, or community member has a ripple effect that can reopen other people’s unresolved past issues.

It’s important to be supportive and vigilant, especially when someone you know has had suicidal thoughts in the past, been abused in the past, or dealt with addictions, Irvine said.

“It’s quite alright to ask if someone is contemplating suicide and it’s not something that’ll increase the risk,” he said.

“It’s quite important ask that and it’s important to take that message seriously.”

When it comes to depression and suicide risk, there are indicators for people to be aware of: lack of motivation, appetite loss, irritability, anger, hostility, and loss of concentration.

Cook-Searson said she hadn’t been aware of all the warning signs years ago when her sister took her own life, and now she wants to make sure others know.

Coping with the loss led Cook-Searson to counselling, which she emphasizes “doesn’t make you weak.”

She also encourages people to reconnect with the land, saying something as simple as a walk can do wonders for a person’s wellbeing.

In the long term, Cook-Searson says the north needs a wellness healing centre. She has spoken to federal representatives about this in the past.

The band says they have a community safety plan, but are also responding to people’s ideas.

“This was a suggestion by one of the parents too that lost their loved one, they said ‘even just a place where our youth can just come have coffee, just have a tea, just somewhere they can visit with each other,’” Cook-Searson said.

“So that’s one thing that we’re doing is hiring two youth workers and probably retain the services of our Elders” and do arts, moccasin-making, and other crafts.

There are a number of steps being taken in school, including a proposal for youth workers in each school.

Emergency numbers to contact are available here and here.