As news continues to pour out of La Loche, Saskatchewan in the wake of a deadly school shooting, we are beginning to learn more about the small town.
Andrea Hill is a reporter for the Star Phoenix in Saskatoon, and traveled to La Loche last May to investigate what the locals call a “suicide epidemic.”
Speaking to Lynda Steele earlier today, Hill says La Loche is a remote, isolated community.
“Everyone knows everyone else, and this is a community where nobody is going to be able to walk away from today.”
Hill says she started looking into the problems in La Loche when she heard from family physicians who were finding it hard to cope with the number of patients presenting with mental health issues.
“Everyone knew someone who had lost someone, or had tried to take their own life. It was something that was very much a troubling factor in the community.”
She says that many who live in the town believe they have the highest suicide rate in the province.
“There were people who could list, on more than one hand, people they knew who had taken their lives within the last five, six, seven years. Family members, friends, friends of friends who had taken their lives.”
Hill says because the town is so small, she believes there is a stigma surrounding mental health.
“When you go into the clinic, if you’re sitting in the waiting area and someone calls you in…well someone else in the waiting area knows you and knows your mom…so it’s very difficult to go in there and get treated for mental health when everyone knows that’s what you’re doing.”
Hill says that while she was in La Loche, she was told the problem stems from “family dysfunctionalism.”
“There’s so many people who have gone to residential schools, or have been descended from people who have been to residential schools…and that has just lead to a community that is sometimes in crisis.”
Hill says there were many people in the community who reached out for help after realizing just how prevalent the problem is.
“There was help from federal and provincial governments to address some of the root problems…to invest money into some things like affordable housing. Because if someone is couch surfing their whole life, that contributes to things like depression and poor mental health”
She says she’s seen the community try to rally together, by building skate parks and offering alternatives to young children who may be lured by drugs or alcohol.
LISTEN to the full interview: