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Margaret Paul wrote a poem for her late brother Terrance Johnson of Potlotek First Nation on what would have been his 50th birthday – May, 28, 2015. Johnson died by suicide when he was just 29 years old. – Erin Pottie MEMBERTOU, N.S. — Margaret Paul has survived back-to-back attempts on her own life.

While recovering in hospital from a suicide bid, she told nurses she felt like a failure. But over a decade later, the Mi’kmaq woman has found clarity.

“It’s an illness that takes you,” said the 56-year-old who works as an educator in Membertou.

“It’s a mental illness and it’s a depression that takes you just to the edge. I often wondered what made me so special? How could I not do this right?

Paul’s familiarity with personal pain is extensive. She lost her brother to suicide in 1993 and, in 2001, she witnessed the self-inflicted death of a former partner.

Paul grew up in a large family from Potlotek – one of five Indigenous communities in Cape Breton, most of which are spread out along the shores of the Bras d’Or.

For two days near Halloween in 2007, Paul tried to take her own life. She ended up at an Antigonish hospital. "Mental illness is a demon that you deal with on a daily basis and sometimes the demon is sleeping and will leave you alone, and other times the demon tells you you’re no good; you’re worthless.” — Margaret Paul She later apologized to her three sons and vowed she would never do it again.

“I don’t make a lot of promises, but this is one promise that I will never break,” Paul said. “And throughout those 12 years there have been times when I have been tempted because it’s a demon. Mental illness is a demon that you deal with on a daily basis and sometimes the demon is sleeping and will leave you alone, and other times the demon tells you you’re no good; you’re worthless.”

Paul is opening up about her struggles with depression in the wake of several suicides in Eskasoni First Nation and in other communities across Cape Breton.

Average suicide rates higher in Indigenous communities

When suicide occurs, particularly in close-knit communities in Cape Breton, Paul said the pain spreads like ripples on the water.

She witnessed its impacts with the death of her brother, 29-year-old Terrance Johnson.

“We may be separated by geography, there may be a lake in between each of the communities, but we’re all still family,” Paul said.

“When you’re in it, you think it just affects you. After the noise settles down you start hearing peoples’ stories — they share with you things that your brother has said or done, and you think of the magnitude — you think about the impact that that one person had on so many different people.”

Exactly a decade ago, the province’s largest Mi’kmaq community began garnering national attention – including visits from an Olympic athlete and video chats with a high-profile actor – after a tragic spate of suicides.

But the problem in Eskasoni stretches far beyond its shores.Anecdotal evidence suggests the average rate of suicide among Indigenous peoples in Canada can be five to seven times higher than the general population.Calgary-based executive director of the Centre for Suicide Prevention Mara Grunau said it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact figure, as provinces do not record ethnicity at the time of death.First Nation communities often keep their own statistics, but they typically only record people living on reserve.“When we look at different Indigenous communities some have absolutely sky-rocketing high rates of suicide and some have none,” Grunau said. “It’s not […]

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