Candle Display Shines Light on Losses

June 5, 2019. Article by: Erin Toews

Throughout the month of April 2019, a collection of 645 candles travelled the Interior of British Columbia – one for each person lost to drug overdose within the region from January 2016-December 2018.

The candle display idea was born as the overdose crisis moved into its fourth year. The overdose response team at Interior Health wanted to recognize lives lost, continue to shine a light on the issue, and spark a conversation.

“It has been three years since the province declared a public health emergency. I sometimes feel like most of society has moved on and is no longer interested in hearing about the lives lost,” says Sandra, a member of the advocacy and support group Mom’s Stop the Harm. “I visited the display three times and was amazed at how the community created this for people that have been lost. Pictures and hearts with names were placed by candles. Many conversations were had with people from every walk of life,” says Sandra, noting many of those who visited the display shared a personal story of loss.

The display visited Penticton, Kelowna, Vernon and Kamloops – communities that have seen the highest numbers of overdose deaths in B.C.’s Interior region. After a week in each community, the display was transported to the next community. Media coverage in each community helped spread the word.

The display included a banner with the overdose death rates and demographics for the region, as well as comment cards inviting public input. A total of 83 comments were left. Many of them shared personal stories of loss while others spoke to issues of stigma and access to services.

“Each candle represents somebody’s friend and family member – someone who is missed every day,” explains Corinne Dolman, Interior Health Substance Use Director. “One of the most important things we can do is have conversations and we wanted this display to spark those conversations.

We know that stigma surrounding mental health and substance use is the biggest barrier people cite for not seeking treatment. We need to bring that stigma out into the light and talk about it.

Contact Interior Health Substance Use Director Corinne Dolman if you’re interested in learning more or want to get involved.

Author's bio: Erin Toews is a Communications Consultant with Interior Health.