Sherbrooke suicide centre turns 30 with a cry for help

Photo: Gordon Lambie
By: 
Gordon Lambie
Staff Writer

While celebrating 30 years in existence on Tuesday morning Sherbrooke’s only suicide prevention centre, JEVI, sent out a cry for help of its own.

Yan Perreault, Chairman of JEVI’s board of directors, praised thirty years of commitment to the cause of suicide prevention from fifteen employees, tens of volunteers, and a diverse group of partners but added that because of growing needs without an increase in funding, the organization’s work is now in peril.

“We cannot hide that we are concerned about our future,” Perreault said, explaining that even after renewed calls to partners and added diligence in seeking financial aid, JEVI is significantly underfunded. “We have a projected deficit of $100,000 for the current year,” the chairman said.

Tania Boilar, clinical coordinator with the organization, explained that the demand for JEVI’s services has increased by 140 per cent over the last five years while donations have remained stable and government funding has been cut.

“The increase in calls does not mean that there are more people committing suicide, it is not bad news,” the coordinator clarified, explaining that the increase in calls comes at the same time as a downturn in the overall suicide rate. “It means that more people are turning to our services; people are talking more.”

Despite staying positive about the work of the centre, Boilar said that the financial challenges produced by the increased need could be devastating to its team of employees.

“$100,000, to JEVI, is three responders, which is half of our current team.”

The suicide prevention centre recently entered the running for the Aviva Community Fund in the hopes of securing funding for an expansion that could increase its capacity to serve the public. Having failed to secure that $50,000 grant, however, Perreault said that the dream of expanding must be sidelined in the name of remaining operational.

“Everything we were asking for was conditional on getting enough support,” the chairman said. “Now we are calling on our donors and partners for help, but we cannot go on without the support of government agencies we hope are listening today.”

Working to remain positive in light of the anniversary, JEVI’s founder Claude Thibault spoke with pride about the work of the organization over the last three decades. He reminded those present at Tuesday’s ceremony that Quebec was recognized in the 1980s as having one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world and said that society has come a long way in terms of recognizing that “suicide is a gesture of the living.”

“Every life has an irreplaceable value,” Thibault said, calling the early planning phases of JEVI a conspiracy for life. “A suicidal person is not necessarily someone who wants to die.”

Asked about how potential cuts might impact the services of JEVI, Perreault said that the service has gradually been moving to a system of contract staff, and that if need be those contracts simply will not be renewed.

“That’s not where we want to go,” the chairman said, calling the centre an essential service in the region. “We are the only service in the Estrie. There are no others.”

Boilar, meanwhile, assured The Record that any staff cuts would not impact the centre’s ability to serve the English population.

“We always plan to be able to have responders who can speak in English,” the coordinator said. “We have three right now who, though not completely bilingual, are very able to operate in English. That’s half our team. If there are cuts to be made it will be to services as a whole, not to our English or French interventions.”

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