Auntie Says: Sensitive subject should be talked about openly

While many squirm and stutter to talk about it, but the truth is that our young people are suffering

Teen suicide. It’s a sensitive subject, one that’s whispered about in parking lots and hallways of schools, but rarely addressed openly.

People speculate, shake their heads in sadness and helplessness — they don’t know what to do. Is there protocol for visiting a family whose child committed suicide? Is it OK to ask what happened? What do you say to the parent or sibling? I don’t know the answers, but maybe someone could let me know because according to the B.C. Coroner’s report, in 2016, there were 29 suicides province-wide of children aged 10-19 (inclusive). This is a very frightening statistic and should be a wake-up call for everyone.

Related: Auntie Says — With caring comes vulnerability

And so it goes. No one says a word. One side of me really gets that — the need for privacy and respect for the family — but a week goes by, then two, and the talk begins to fade. Then before you know it, everyone’s gone on with their busy lives and the loss of a life is forgotten. A tragic death is left up to speculation and gossip as the shame and stigma of mental illness is shoved back into the closet. We need to talk about it because while many squirm and stutter when it comes to talking about mental illness and teen suicide, the truth is that our young people are suffering and some are losing the battle. There’s the untold story of a young person that’s been lost. This breaks my heart. Why should mental illness and/or suicide define the entire life of a young person?

Did you know that a student can attempt suicide on a Friday, be hospitalized and treated over the weekend, return to school on Monday, and there’s no requirement that the parents or caregiver inform the school. That’s right. Again, while I understand and respect the need for privacy, this blew me away when I heard it because the school can be such a valuable resource for the student and family.

Wendy Hyer, the Superintendent of School District 67, confirmed that parents “are not obligated to inform schools regarding a suicide attempt. (But) As a district, we have encouraged the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health to establish a protocol to share information when student safety is at risk, however, there is no protocol in place at this time.”

I hope this protocol comes into being because it does take a village to raise a child. Having more eyes and ears could potentially save a life. I know many parents do talk to the principal but the shame, embarrassment and lingering taboo of suicide (and suicide attempts) can still keep some families feeling the need to stay hidden or isolated. If there’s a suicide of a student in the district, it’s kept very quiet and most parents know nothing until much later, if at all. The public knows even less. Hyer assures me though that “District No. 67 has a trained Crisis Response Team as does every district in the province to provide support to a school community in the aftermath of any student or staff death.”

I’m not an expert in mental health, but I do know that youth suicide is happening in our community. I also know that if you break an arm, you go the hospital and if you’re diabetic, you take insulin everyday to save your life. Until we reach the same acceptance of seeking help with mental health issues, the stigma will continue. Depression and anxiety are not always talked about openly and kids may try and deal with it themselves as they’ve been told to suck it up and get on with life. Things like substance abuse, cutting, and self harm can occur without anyone being any the wiser, but talking helps. It really does.

Related: Auntie Says — Reflecting back on 2018

Being a kid these days is really difficult. In fact, I think it’s much harder than it was in my day. The pressures, both external and internal, that are on students and young people are unbelievable and overwhelming. The constant pressure to be better, to be more, to be something they’re not ready for. The internet and social media is a double-edged sword and definitely plays on the minds of our youth. The conversation has started but there’s still a long way to go.

The Kids Help Line is now available by text. This is so awesome. It can be difficult to put your feelings into words, let alone actually saying them out loud, but to text and connect is an opportunity for young people to “talk” to someone and hopefully get some help.

Need help now? Counsellors are available 24/7 at Kids Help Line 1-800-668-6868 or text 686868. Check out the website too — www.kidshelpphone.ca.

Faye Arcand is a freelance writer living in the South Okanagan. She can be reached at faye.arcand@icloud.com or www.fayeearcand.com.

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