(L to R) Victim Services of Sarnia-Lambton Executive Director Kristen Carter with Community Navigator Sandra Tofano. June 21, 2022 Submitted photo.(L to R) Victim Services of Sarnia-Lambton Executive Director Kristen Carter with Community Navigator Sandra Tofano. June 21, 2022 Submitted photo.

New community navigator to assist loved ones of those who die by suicide

A new community navigator with Victim Services of Sarnia-Lambton is hoping her lived experience will help individuals who've lost a loved one to suicide.

Sandra Tofano had been working with the organization as a crisis intervention specialist when it was determined a position was needed to assist people after that type of loss had occurred.

"I've got a personal history with suicide in my family so that combined with my experience, I felt it was something that I would be able to help people with," said Tofano.

Tofano said her first husband died by suicide 13 years ago.

"It was obviously traumatic and my children were fairly young at the time. So, I've experienced that journey of dealing with the trauma, the grief, the guilt, the blame, those things that go with that type of death."

Tofano said grieving a suicide is different from grieving other types of loss.

"It's helpful when you have someone to talk to that understands that. There's just so many other layers to it."

Tofano said when she experienced her loss, Victim Services attended the immediate crisis but support after the fact was lacking.

"If I wanted to go for counselling, that was something that I had to navigate my way through on my own. There wasn't anyone helping me walk through all of that and figure out the different resources that may, or may not, have been available at that time."

Tofano said while it's easy for some people to find support, she wants to help the ones who don't know where to turn.

"(Suicide) is the second leading cause of death in Canada. The thing that is surprising is that it's such a common thing and yet there's still such a stigma so a lot of people are just not willing to talk to people about it. Whether it's the person who is suffering from mental health issues, or the family grieving afterwards, it tends to be something where people are left alone a lot because of that stigma."

Executive Director Kristen Carter said the community navigator will follow up with individuals on a longer-term basis and check in on them on important dates like their loved ones' birthday and holidays and ensure they remain connected to someone who will provide enhanced emotional support.

"There is counselling available throughout the community, there's also groups, where individuals can come and have a safe space to talk about their experience and share with peers who have also had the same loss," Carter said.

The Sarnia Lambton Suicide Prevention Committee assisted in the development of the new program.

Anyone interested in accessing the community navigator can call 519-344-8861 ex. 5238 or email communitynavigator@victimservices.on.ca

If you have immediate concerns for yourself, or someone you know, you can call the local distress line at 519-336-3000 or 1-888-DISTRES, the Lambton Mental Health Crisis Service 519-336-3445 or 1-800-307-4319, text HOME to the crisis text line at 686868, or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.

A full list of helplines can be found here.

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