Ont. students protest amid 'suicide contagion' fears
Published Tuesday, June 7, 2016 10:33AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, June 7, 2016 7:06PM EDT
Hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms in Woodstock, Ont., on Tuesday to draw attention to what health officials are calling an unexplained “suicide contagion” spreading among the city’s youth.
Police in the southwestern Ontario city said that five people aged 19 and younger have died of suicide since February. Police have also recorded 36 other cases in which someone nearly died or expressed suicidal thoughts in Oxford County, which includes Woodstock and seven other communities.
Over 400 students, parents, and community members gathered at Woodstock’s Museum Square to stage a rally to raise awareness about youth suicide. They shared memories, songs, and support.
The event was especially meaningful for Ron and Lorrie Bailey. Their 16-year-old daughter Mandy died of suicide in February while battling depression.
“She said my biggest lie is telling people I’m okay. She didn’t want to share her pain with anyone else,” said Lorrie. “I describe it as a demon, the demon of depression. It just filled her and took her.”
“As soon as someone says ‘I have a mental health problem I need to get help with,’ everyone starts to scatter (and) back away. We can’t be doing that as a society,” said Ron.
Mackenzie Gall, a Grade 11 student at Huron Park Secondary School, helped organize the walkout.
“I went through a lot of bullying as it was at school and I know a lot of these suicides really hit home for a lot of us students,” she told CTV News Channel as she marched toward the rally with her schoolmates. “It was a big eye-opener for us.”
Gall said she believes bullying and school-related stress were factors in some of the reported suicides. She said the walkout to draw attention to the serious need for help was supported by teachers at her school.
“I definitely hope for more support from the community as well as our teachers and other adults and students as well,” said Gall.
“It’s just so sad. I’ve had depression and anxiety in the past. I know how painful it can be if someone feels that alone. It’s just heartbreaking,” said Grade 10 student Madison Zylsgra in an interview with CTV Kitchener. She lost two of her friends this year.
“We need help today. This situation isn’t going away. We’re doing everything we can to find a solution,” Woodstock city councillor Shawn Shapton told CTV Kitchener.
Karen Edgar of the Thames Valley District School Board says over 125 mental health professionals currently work in local schools in a variety of roles.
Mike McMahon, the executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association branch in Oxford says one suicide can act as a trigger for others. He believes the 38 trained clinicians on staff at CMHA Oxford can provide adequate help on a short-term basis, but more needs to be done to build awareness of mental health issues in schools.
Ontario introduced a new sex-ed and health curriculum at the beginning of the 2015-2016 school year that addresses mental health, but does not cover suicide or suicide prevention.
Ontario's education minister Liz Sandals said the province will continue to work with school boards to "equip educators with the tools and knowledge that they need to address mental health."
With a report from CTV Kitchener and files from The Canadian Press