Arlene Henkelman holds a photo of her son, Levi Busat, a talented hockey player and passionate hunter who died by suicide at age 17. Henkelman urges people to take mental health concerns seriously, to always reach out for help and to not stop until you connect with the right resource.

Arlene Henkelman holds a photo of her son, Levi Busat, a talented hockey player and passionate hunter who died by suicide at age 17. Henkelman urges people to take mental health concerns seriously, to always reach out for help and to not stop until you connect with the right resource.

‘Never feel ashamed’: Ponoka mother speaks up for son

Remembered as a kind, generous teen who had a deep concern for the welfare of others and whose presence lit up a room, Levi Busat loved hockey and hunting, spending much of his time on the ice or out in the bush with his truck.

He was a couple of months short of his 18th birthday when he died by suicide on April 29, 2021, and he is deeply mourned by his family, friends and the Ponoka community.

“Levi was the most caring, the most compassionate, giving child,” said Arlene Henkelman, his mother. “He always, always had a smile on his face.”

She added he had a particular concern for those who were unable to afford necessities.

When Busat was at a hockey tournament in Vancouver when he was 13 and saw some of the homeless people who were living in part of the city, he wanted to make sure they had food and clothing.

“We always donated to organizations because of his push.”

Henkelman said her son was an outstanding hockey player. He started playing at the age of three and by six, he was playing at the AAA level.

While time has not diminished the loss of her son, Henkelman had a few thoughts to share about suicide awareness, mental health and seeking help if you’re struggling yourself or are a loved one of someone who ended their life by suicide.

“If somebody says something to you, don’t dismiss it,” said Henkelman.

Although Busat’s symptoms weren’t ignored and they did seek help for him, she stressed how important it is to always listen and take mental health concerns seriously.

Busat had no known history of mental health issues, and Henkelman said for him, it was more situational as he was having a difficult time with some of the circumstances in his life, one of which was the pandemic.

Being a very social person, restrictions and distancing were hard for him, she said.

Although he was struggling, there seemed to be no obvious crisis point and his internal struggle was “masked,” said Henkelman.

The most important thing she wants those struggling with their mental health to know is they should never feel embarrassed.

“Never feel ashamed. The stigma of mental health issues — it needs to stop,” said Henkelman.

Tragically, Henkelman’s life was touched by suicide before, when her brother Egon died by suicide 27 years ago.

“Being both a parent and sibling … I have encountered stigma that it was just a cop out, they didn’t know how to handle their stresses, which has really affected me when people talk that way,” said Henkelman.

Over the years, some of the comments she’s heard have been very judgemental and upsetting, she said.

“I would never say that Levi or Egon were weak people or that they were doing it for attention or anything like that,” she said.

“I think what people struggle with internally, on the inside, is sometimes missed.”

She stressed that how people treat others may have a larger impact than they realize and they should be mindful of how negative words or actions can affect another person’s self-esteem.

Generally speaking, she said she believes bullying, either in school or the workplace, affects people in different ways and is an issue that needs to be addressed more when speaking about mental health.

Henkelman said to always reach out for help and to not stop until you connect with the right resource.

She called two counsellors and didn’t receive a response but the third she contacted was able to see Busat the same day.

She also highly recommends counselling for people who have lost someone to suicide.

While she encountered some roadblocks when it came to accessing private support resources, she said she received excellent support from the community.

“The Ponoka community has been amazing,” she said, adding that initiatives like the annual suicide prevention walk are so important because it’s a recognition that suicide is a real issue and people need to be aware and actively working towards prevention.

In 2021, Henkelman had long-sleeved athletic shirts made for Busat’s family and close friends to wear at the second annual suicide prevention walk. The shirts are purple, for Busat’s favourite colour, and feature the purple and teal ribbon for suicide prevention awareness and his name along with his jersey number with Ponoka Minor Hockey, No. 12.

Busat’s former midget hockey team also remembers him, and another teammate Sam Neath, with memorial patches on jerseys that were donated by the Neath family.

Henkelman, in conjunction with Ponoka Family and Community Support Services, started a scholarship in Busat’s name last year. The $1,000 bursary is awarded to students going into human sciences such as health care or psychology.

Henkelman says although she puts on a brave face to get through each day, the grief is still ever-present.

“I know it’s something that’s never going to go away but it’s hard to put on that face when I just miss him.”