Kelli Morris can’t find any statistics on how many people have lost both parents to suicide, but she knows it can happen.
The former Red Deer resident’s mother Margaret Moench, 41, died by suicide right before Christmas in 2002, and her father Kim Moench, 65, died by suicide almost a year ago on Oct. 14, 2021.
Morris said her mother made five suicide attempts prior to her death, but she never expected her father’s death, especially after he saw the impact on the family.
“I was actually pretty blindsided by his suicide,” Morris said.
“What I found out about my dad after the fact was he always struggled to talk about his feelings, where he was hurting inside.”
He struggled with alcoholism and depression, and was only starting to speak about his pain in the last few months before he took his own life, she said.
“We still live in a society where men are just supposed to pull their shirt sleeves up, and man up, and we need to make talking about our mental health a number one priority in society.”
Morris remembered her mother didn’t receive the support she needed either. Suicide was very “hush hush” among friends and acquaintances at the time, but she made the decision to not ignore what happened.
“I don’t hide it. I made sure that anyone who asked was aware. I only had one child at the time my mom passed. When he was old enough to understand, I made sure that he knew and he understood. He understood the implications of your mental health, and being able to talk about your feelings and seeking help when needed.”
Morris continues to speak out to try and save lives.
“Their story shouldn’t have to end because they can’t deal with their hurt, or the substance use, or whatever it is that’s put them in a place where they feel that they’re better off to not be here. We need to break that stigma.”
Morris, who is the co-ordinator for the housing loss prevention program at the Grande Prairie Friendship Centre, said during her career in community service working with vulnerable populations she has learned a lot about long wait lists for mental health services, including for children.
She said when someone with suicide ideation goes to an emergency department they usually have to wait a while before getting to speak to a psychiatrist who will likely just give them a pill, which may be necessary, but accessing the therapy they need to dig deep to the root of their source of anguish is crucial.
“How many people don’t have family doctors so you’re constantly seeking support from a walk-in clinic, or online doctor, that doesn’t know your history and can’t necessarily give you the best treatment. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s a circle that doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to end.”
She said nonprofit community agencies in Grande Prairie recognize the need for better mental health supports but can only do so much without the necessary funding. Red Deer would face similar restrictions.
Morris said her mother missed so much time with her children and grandchildren. Suicide awareness needs to have a bigger role within the health care system.
“I’m well aware that people who take their life by suicide are generally so hurt and they feel like they have nowhere to turn so we want to continue to raise awareness so people do know there’s a place to turn,” Morris said.
“It’s okay to talk about your mental health. It’s okay to seek help, and your story doesn’t have to be over. It can continue.”