Bell Let’s Talk is an initiative aimed at ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. One of the programs funded by the initiative helps to ensure at-risk First Nations community members get the help they need.

Suicide affects First Nations people in Canada at a number far greater than the rest of the population.

Aboriginal youth die by suicide five to six times more frequently than non-aboriginals, a statistic the Miramichi Community Suicide Prevention Committee is trying to change.

Trisha Francis is a member of the Eel Ground First Nation just outside Miramichi, N.B.

She recently received training that will help her identify and address signs of suicide risk in her community.

When an at-risk person is identified, Francis says her goal will to be ensure they know they are not alone.

“That I can help them, that I am there for them and if they don’t want me to help them, I can get them further help,” says Francis. “Help is available and I certainly would not leave them alone.”

Cheryl Ward is a facilitator for the training Francis received.

It's called Safe Talk and is funded, in part, by a Bell Let's Talk grant.

Ward says there is an inter-connectivity among First Nations that amplifies the loss of suicide.

“In the Miramichi area, we are located with three First Nations in the community, but there is two others that are just within 45 minutes drive of each other, so that is five communities that could have an effect on,” says Ward.

In 2007 a young First Nations woman, Natasha Patles, started a walk to bring awareness to the issue. She says she has been affected by suicide.

“Some years we walk from Eel Ground to Red Bank, some days we walk from Red Bank to Eel Ground. It connects two First Nations communities, so we know that we are not alone,” says Patles.

Michele Bushey is the chair of the Miramichi Community Suicide Prevention Committee. She says the committee works on education to make talking about suicide easier.

“Years ago, suicide was always something people never wanted to talk about because of the stigma attached to it. So, one of the really big initiatives that we work on is reducing the stigma,” says Bushey.

Patles says talking about suicide is important.

“Because I lost two friends at the age of 18 and I dealt with suicidal thoughts in my teen years, so I know that silence is not going to help it go away and I know that we have to break the silence,” says Patles.

The committee has been working together for more than ten years, but organizers say the Bell Let’s Talk grant, for the Safe Talk program, has made getting help more accessible on the Eel Ground First Nation.

With files from CTV Atlantic's David Bell