But living without one is harder. This statement stopped me in my tracks.
This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada. Mental illness affects 1 in 5 youth in Canada, and in tragic instances, may lead to suicidal thoughts or behaviours. Every year, there are over 700 young Canadians who die by suicide, making it the second leading cause of death among 15 to 25 year olds. The Partners for Mental Health have recently launched a campaign to help parents, as well as a call to action, for the government to establish a National Suicide Prevention Fund. But how do we, as parents, look for the signs? Right By You provides support and resources for parents empowering them with the language to talk to their teens about mental health.
Janet Osborne is a mom who tragically lost her son. I felt it was best for her to share her experience with us instead of me. The following post is from Janet…
Living with a teen is hard, living without one is harder. Unfortunately, I am one of the many parents in this country where this statements hold true. On February 11 2013, my 18 year-old son James took his own life.
After losing our son James almost four years ago, I have become very committed to bringing awareness and helping to prevent youth suicide by working alongside organizations such as Partners for Mental Health. As I am posting this, we continue to lose youth daily in Canada to suicide.
As a society, we need to be asking the most important question…why? Why my son or daughter? Why didn’t I see this coming? Why didn’t somebody say something? As I searched for my own answers, I determined that there are two big reasons behind this. The first reason is the general awareness around youth mental health.
“Why didn’t I see this coming? Why didn’t somebody say something?”
Many parents find it hard to figure out knowing what is normal behavior and knowing when your child is in trouble. This was the case with James. He was 18, just finishing high school. He was also drinking, and doing drugs. Growing up, I would say that this was no different from our own experiences, so where is the problem. However, this is when parents do not have the full picture. It was only after James death that we learned that he had been skipping school, and discovered all the lies that he had been telling us – we did not have the full picture. I really wished that we had more information available to help determine how bad James was actually feeling. Youth that are in a deep depression work very hard keeping how they are feeling hidden from those who love them.
Partners for Mental Health (PFMH) has put together a guide for parents on how to talk to teenagers about mental health. The Right by You campaign offers a free guide and toolkit that parents and caregivers can download at rightbyyou.ca. I strongly recommend that all parents download the guide as a way to start a conversation with their teens. It helps identify risks and recognize whether teen behavior is normal or not.
The second reason that we continue to lose our youth is the system that is supposed to help: the lack of resources resulting in wait lists and coordination of efforts. Once you have gotten your child to open up and get the help they need, you’re told that your child will have to wait almost a year to get treatment. There are so many that do not make that first appointment. This is unacceptable, the lack of funding for youth with mental health issues is almost criminal, the hospital would never tell a child with cancer or even a broken leg to come back in year and maybe they would help them.
Partners for Mental Health believes this is wrong as well. With the support of Honorable Michael Kirby, PFMH is asking the government Federal Government for $100 million over 5 years for a National youth suicide prevention fund. Parents can also support this cause by sending letters to their MPs through the Right by You website.
Finally, we need to speak up more and ensure that our communities work together to advocate for change. I recently had the chance to attend my younger son’s school council meeting. I introduced the Right by You guide and suggested parents link to the website and write letters to their local MPs. My message was so well received. I encourage all parents to find out about how their children’s schools and other organizations (sports teams, youth groups) are addressing youth mental health issues.
Trust me when I say that the last thing that enters to your mind as a parent is that your child is so depressed and hopeless that he or she has no other options left; that the only way to make it better would be to end their own life. But sometime you need to think like this. The alternative is so much worse.
This is something you never really heal from, and I would do anything to have my son back.
I cry all over again every time I hear of another youth that is lost to suicide, I cry for the child and I cry for the parents.
Together, let’s stop the crying.