Ontario city baffled by cluster of teen suicides
Published Tuesday, June 12, 2012 10:18PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, June 14, 2012 2:07PM EDT
Why are so many teenagers in Sarnia, Ontario, taking their lives? That's what the city is wondering after nine teens in the quiet, middle-class town died by suicide in less than two years.
One of them was 14-year-old Morgan Vanderberghe, who killed herself four weeks ago, leaving her father, Doug Vandenberghe, devastated.
"When I seen that she was gone, I just thought 'Why? Why? Why?' And no one will be able to answer that," he says.
St. Clair Catholic District School Board trustee Michelle Parks says the cluster of deaths is a mystery, with nothing obvious linking them together.
"With the last one, I got more angry than sad. Nine deaths ... that's a crisis situation, in my opinion," she says.
What's more, some four dozen other teens in the area have been hospitalized because they were at risk of suicide. That has some wondering whether there is a much bigger problem afoot than anyone imagined.
Some experts say nine suicides in 18 months may be just a statistical blip. They say mental illnesses often start in the teen years, which are often already difficult years, because of brain and hormonal changes.
Dr. Stan Kutcher, the chair of the department of Psychiatry at Dalhousie University and an expert in the area of adolescent mental health, says teens often have difficulties with their emotions and difficulties with their thinking
"They are not sure if it is a problem or if it is a disorder or if it is a part of life. And without knowing about this, without knowing that there is help available, they can end up going down the wrong path," he says.
Still, some of the deaths may be due to what's called "the contagion effect" -- glamourizing and copying other teen suicides.
"For some young kids who are vulnerable, that may be the issue that tips them towards suicide," says Dr. Kutcher.
Doug Vandenberghe would like teens to know there's nothing glamorous about suicide.
"Every teen that commits suicide, they think it is heroic," says Doug Vandenberghe. "It is not a heroic thing."
Dr. Kutcher says some provinces are starting to train teachers to identify students at high risk of suicide, to get them into treatment quickly.
"If you can provide appropriate identification, diagnosis and treatment in primary care for young people with mental disorders, that brings down rates of suicides," he says. "It is a clear relationship: improving mental health care decreases suicide rates."
While the community studies how to stop this tragic trend, family and friends of the nine who have died are holding noisy rallies.
"We are hoping anybody that walks by or anybody that sees pictures of these people at these rallies and they are depressed or feeling suicidal they can talk to them," rally organizer Tyler Savage says.
Based on a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip