The five suicides by young people over the past four months in Woodstock, Ont. are highlighting a national problem, researchers with Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health say. “I think this is something we could see in any community in Canada,” said Dr. Joanna Henderson, head of research with the child, youth and family program at CAMH.
“It’s really critically important for us to take a step back and think nationally about what kind of action we can take to enhance services in every community in Canada so that young people no matter where they live in Canada aren’t faced with these kind of difficulties on their own and without support,” Henderson said.
Statistics Canada figures show that suicide is the second-leading causing of death among young people aged 15 to 34, and Henderson says suicide rates among youth are unchanged, despite efforts by clinicians to provide more targeted support.
“That speaks to the need for us to think differently,” Henderson says.
Youth mental health care needs to change
Henderson says she feels both frustration and optimism in the wake of the Woodstock suicides.
“Frustration because our rate of change as a system is very slow, but also optimism because I feel like in the past couple of years there has been a real increase in attention to mental health issues,” Henderson said.
“We’re gaining momentum and I think we’re about the make some pretty significant changes in the system and I’m hopeful that these changes will translate into better experiences for young people.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Ron Bailey, father of Mandy Bailey who died by suicide at 16, in Woodstock in February.
“Every [suicide] attempt … shatters this community. It’s too late to help Mandy, but we need the services there to help the others.”
Families need support too
Support for families is important as well, Bailey says.
He’s had difficulty sleeping since Mandy’s death, and he’s worried about the burden being placed on an already limited support system in Woodstock as more families require help dealing with suicide.
“We’re hoping other families don’t have to experience this,” said Bailey.
Henderson says there are some groups that work with families of young people who have died by suicide but there is room for growth.
“It’s an area that definitely needs continued development,” Henderson said.
“Family members have to have a spot at the table, they have a really important voice that we need to hear.”