Steve Gasser says his son has attended more funerals than he has because of teen suicides in the Red Deer area since last spring.
Recently, the issue was forced wide open with youth stepping forward to break the silence online.
A Facebook group page, Suicide Awareness Red Deer, it’s #timeforchange, is dedicated to six “young lives” lost in the past year.
Membership on the social media page grew by more than 1,000 since Thursday to over 6,500 on Friday.
“I think the kids are looking for answers as much as the parents. Nobody sees it coming, and it happens again,” said Gasser, a Red Deer parent, on Friday.
He said word of a suicide spreads fast among youth who are so connected by social media. Soon everyone knows.
The funerals are devastating for survivors, he said.
“You can just feel the pain in the air that everyone is going through, and you think the kids see this, there’s no way they’d do this to their family, their friends, but . . .”
Noreen McCallum, program manager of community addiction and mental health with Alberta Health Services in Red Deer, said AHS wants to help.
“We do know right now there is a lot of concern in the community around suicide. We are working with our community partners to ensure that youth in Red Deer do have supports and services available,” McCallum said.
Jason Carey, counselling manager with Kids Help Phone, said Red Deer has to acknowledge what is going on and help break the stigma attached to issues like depression, mental health issues and suicide.
“The worst thing they can do is shove it under the carpet. They need to address it. They need to name it as a problem,” Carey said.
“Look, this is a serious issue. It’s a big issue. Between the ages of 15 and 24, (suicide) is the second leading cause of death. That’s frightening. That’s in Canada.”
He said it’s a myth that talking about suicide, that even mentioning it, is going to put it into a teen’s head to do it.
“We need to start talking about it and we need to talk about it openly. Just 10 years ago the topic of sexual abuse was taboo. Now it’s talked about everywhere.”
He encouraged youth with problems not to wait to reach out to someone.
“One of our mottoes at Kids Help Phone is there’s nothing to big, there’s nothing too small. What may start out as something very, very minute, if it’s not dealt with, then you pile a bunch of other stuff on top of it, the next thing you know you’re spiralling out of control.”
Carey said young people struggling with issues don’t have to face them alone.
“There are people here ready and willing to listen to what they are going through. Kids Help Phone is here all the time — 24/7. It’s confidential, anonymous. We don’t trace anything. We don’t have call display. They are in the driver’s seat when they call.”
Gasser said he wonders if social media and the constant connection and exposure is part of the problem.
“They never get a break. Anywhere in the world, they are connected to their high school and all the pressures that includes. That’s the only thing that I see that’s really changed in life, from even five, six, seven years ago.”
Heather Jackson, of Lacombe, who lost her 15-year-old son to suicide in June 2011, said it’s important to speak up about suicide.
“There’s no singular reason people choose suicide. There are lots of reasons. Just the same, there’s no one answer to preventing it,” Jackson said.
Having lost her son, Jackson said she knows the struggles life throws at you and the despair people feel.
“I just feel there’s so much stress in people’s lives and they’re not able to manage it. Placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves all the time, and each other.
“We kind of live in a world of instant gratification. People want instant results and instant happiness and it just doesn’t happen that way.”
But Jackson said they need to know there’s a lot of help available.
Call Kids Help Phone toll-free at 1-800-668-6868 or visit www.kidshelpphone.ca.
Contact the Alberta Health Services’ Mental Health Help Line at 1-877-303-2642, or other agencies like police, hospital, or counselling centres.
Alberta Health Services says youth in crisis will often give indications that they are in trouble.
Warning signs include:
• Threatens or talks about suicide or has a plan for suicide.
• Talks about wanting to die or shows a preoccupation with death.
• Shows changes in behaviour, appearance or mood.
• Abuses drugs, alcohol, gambling.
• Deliberately self injures.
• Says things like “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead,” “I shouldn’t have been born,” “I won’t be a problem for you much longer,” “Nothing matters,” or “It’s no use.”
• Makes statements about hopelessness, helplessness or worthlessness.
• Gives away prized possessions or makes a will.
• Loses interest in activities or things once cared about, always feels bored.
• Has trouble concentrating or has difficulties with school work.
• Often complains about physical symptoms that are related to stress and emotions, such as stomach aches, headaches or fatigue.
• Becomes overly impulsive and may engage in violent actions or rebellious behaviour.
For more information visit www.albertahealthservices.ca/4947.asp