Starting the conversation about suicide in Petrolia


Debb Pitel is determined to start a conversation about suicide.

And for the local business owner, it is personal.

Thirteen years her son Tyler, then only 15, took his own life. Pitel says she and her husband had known for two years “things weren’t right” and had been trying to find help for Tyler.

Pitel admits while they were trying to help their son, they often felt unsure what to do next because there were few resources available. She adds they constantly ran into roadblocks. They persisted eventually getting Tyler into treatment at St. Clair Child and Youth Services.

But even with help, Tyler committed suicide.

“It’s been 13 years on the calendar but most days it seems like just 13 minutes (ago),” Pitel told The Independent.

Tyler was one of four people to commit suicide that year. Statistics now show 800,000 suicides a year around the world – that’s one every 46 seconds.

But Pitel says we still have a hard time talking about it. She knows that feeling so well. It took her 10 years to say the word.

“The problem without a conversation there is no conversation,” says Pitel.

“People talk about cancer, they talk about car accidents…but no one talks about suicide…They do not talk because they don’t what to say.”

After two recent suicides in Lambton County, Pitel approached her local doctor at the Central Lambton Family Health Team with a plan to get people talking about suicide. Her son, Tanner, a mentor at Wilfred Laurier University, recommended the SafeTALK course after taking as part of his training.

The family health team has organized SafeTALK Training sessions for Wednesday Sept. 24 starting at 6 pm. It’s open to anyone 15 years and older and will help people talk to those who are thinking of suicide.

Pitel, who owns the Bits ‘N Buckles Western Wear in Petrolia, says each person attending will get a training kit to take home and she’ll pay for it through fundraising – not wanting anyone to miss out because they can’t afford it.

“I’m going and I’m taking our youngest – our 15 year-old – Conner with me,” she says. “It’s important for him with our history to make him feel better and to educate him…He needs to be prepared and needs to be educated.”

Pitel is urging parents to do the same with their children. “You can’t sit on your hands and do nothing,” says Pitel. “You might have a conversation with a person down the street and you don’t what to say; go to the workshop because then you’ll know what to say…start a conversation educate yourself for the future, whether it’s for your family or someone else’s family.

“The community has to come together because we’ve lost too many, we’ve lost too many adults and kids…you give your child swimming lessons to learn how to swim or you take the CPR course – it’s the same thing…Get as many tools as you need but hopefully it is something we never have to use.”

To register for the training session contact the health team at 519-882-2552.