We can’t stay silent
Some things stick with you a lifetime.
When I was a young man in Red Deer, the community was stunned when a bright student from an area high school, with a promising future, was found dead in her home. It was a suicide.
Today, many of her former classmates still dwell on the tragedy. The question ‘Why?’ haunts them.
It is a circumstance familiar to present-day Red Deerians: in the past two years, at least six area youths killed themselves. Their friends are asking the same question.
On average, 294 people in Canada between the ages of 14 and 24 take their own lives yearly. It’s the second leading cause of death among young people after motor vehicle accidents.
Yet people are often reluctant to discuss it, say mental health experts.
But discussing it openly is a crucial — and possibly a life-saving step — in the right direction, according to Stacie Moore, one of Red Deer’s youthful community builders.
Moore, 21, founded the all-ages concert at Bower Ponds last year called Rock the Change to draw attention to youth suicides and mental illnesses. The event is meant to break the silence about suicide in the community and get people talking. Last year, it raised $8,000 towards education programs at Suicide Information and Education Services. Moore is currently seeking bands, sponsors and volunteers for this year’s event.
Her driving force is the six youths who killed themselves in the past two years. “I didn’t know the boys (but some of her friends did) who took their lives,” she told the Advocate. “It just broke my heart that kids do not know there are other ways to deal with stuff,” she said. “When I went to school, there was no talk about suicide or depression.”
Mental health experts agree that an exchange of constructive dialogue about suicide among youths is sadly lacking. “This is partly due to the stigma, guilt or shame that surrounds suicide,” says one study. “People are often uncomfortable discussing it. Unfortunately, this tradition of silence perpetuates harmful myths and attitudes. It can also prevent people from talking openly about the pain they feel or the help they need.”
Moore’s insight confirms what experts have long concluded: Communication is the first essential step in assisting youths at risk. “Learning the facts about suicide can help build a parent’s confidence in discussing a difficult subject,” said one account over the Internet.
Since last year’s Rock the Change event, Moore has now been active as an elementary educator, speaking to kindergarten to Grade 6 students about stress and depression. “I just want people to know (about) just talking to someone or coming to the realization that everything is not going to be OK in the next few days, but it will get better.”
There’s been a long-held belief that young people rarely think about suicide. If they’re raised in a well-grounded, loving family environment, how could things be so terrible as to lead them to kill themselves?
A survey of 15,000 Grade 7 to 12 students in British Columbia refutes that belief. Among the respondents, 34 per cent knew of someone who attempted or succeeded in suicide; 16 per cent had seriously considered suicide; and 14 per cent had made a suicide plan.
Suicidal youth are in pain, say experts. Even honour students with a solid family background.
“They don’t necessarily want to die; they want their pain to end. If their ability to cope is stretched to the limit, or if problems occur together with a mental illness, it can seem that death is the only way to make the pain stop.”
Unfortunately, that pain can follow the students after high school graduation, all the more reason that establishing solutions to their dilemmas must begin at an early age.
A thought-provoking documentary recently aired by CTV’s W5 showed suicides among Canadian university students are rising at an alarming rate.
“The transition from high school to university is like ‘falling off a cliff,’ ” Dr. Su-Ting Teo, director of health services at Ryerson University in Toronto, told W5.
The transition has always been difficult, said Teo, but added, “I’ve been here almost 13, 14 years and definitely, there were mental issues when I started, but the sort of volume and the crises and the need we’re seeing is increasing year after year.”
Other Canadian universities agree.
One parent who lost a son in university to suicide said the stigma of “shame” attached to mental illness is “still massive.” Eliminating this draconian mindset must be among the top priorities of mental health issues.
For more information on Rock the Change, contact Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rock the Change RD on Facebook.
If you need help, contact Suicide Information and Education Services (403-342-4966) or Alberta Health Services Mental Help Line (1-877-303-2642).
Rick Zemanek is a retired Advocate editor.