Betty Bates: Healing begins with understanding

suicide prevention in youth

  • Oct. 2, 2011 1:00 p.m.

Ryan is an intelligent, articulate and perceptive young man of 20.

As a young teenager he was diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD and ADD.   He describes his school years as a constant struggle, both in his studies and personal life. Ryan was also the victim of bullying throughout his school years and while that was not the sole cause of his attempted suicide, it was certainly a factor.

Despite everything, he graduated high school with scholarships, now lives on his own and looks forward to the future. Ryan wants to help others by sharing his story.

At 15, Ryan began treatment on a widely prescribed antidepressant. Within days his reaction was not one of improvement, but rather a rapid decline with suicidal thoughts and a subsequent suicide attempt. During his initial hospitalization, Ryan encountered an elderly gentleman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, had no family nearby and was feeling sad and very much alone. They sat and talked for a long time and when Ryan got up to leave, the man reached out, took his hand and thanked him for being there.  For Ryan, this was the turning point, a realization that a simple act of kindness had helped someone in a meaningful way.  Ryan looked at life differently from that moment.

We talked about signs that parents, teachers and friends should look for and respond to. His answers didn’t surprise me but his deep understanding of those signs did.

He said that acting out or “attention seeking behaviour” is often a cry for help and we need to look into the why part of that behaviour and not simply shrug it off.  He spoke of paying attention to the type of music your child is listening to. That music is without a doubt different but what we should do is take the time to listen to the lyrics — which reflect and affect mood.

We talked of the practice of cutting which he described as the subconscious mind crying out for help when the physical mind can’t. Ryan also felt that there were far more teens than any of the statistics show that are suffering from depression and anxiety — simply because they are suffering in silence.

He spoke of how important the support and understanding of his parents were to him and his recovery as well as that of close friends.  He likened it to a hurdle in an obstacle course, with a psychiatrist and proper medication helping him get to a certain point — but the support of his family and peers took him over the top.

I am writing this article as a strong advocate for all those with mental illness, particularly our youth. We need to work together and continue to take steps to erase the stigma that still remains and raise awareness about mental illness.

It’s not that difficult, it starts with a conversation and acceptance, moves to understanding and empathy, and then to healing and empowerment.

Important facts:

n As many as one in five Canadian children and adolescents (20 per cent) — more than 1.2 million people — will suffer from mental health issues before their 18th birthday.

n A nationwide survey of Canadian youth found that 6.5 per cent — more than a quarter million youth and young adults between 15 and 24 — met the criteria for major depression in the past year

n Roughly 15 children and adolescents suicide in B.C. each year

n Suicide continues to be the second most common cause of death for Canadian youth age 12 to 18

For help, call the Crisis Line at 250-545-2339 or 1-800-SUICIDE. Alternatively, youth can get help at

Betty Bates is a member of the Suicide Prevention Committee, with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Vernon branch.


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