This year, I am participating in Jack Ride, a charity cycling event, for youth mental health.

On March 27, 2010, Eric and Sandra Windeler were returning to their Toronto home and received a phone call that shattered their world in a way that no parent could ever imagine. Their son, Jack, had died by suicide.

Following Jack’s death, Eric and Sandra learned about some of Jack’s behaviours that were signs of his distress, such as not attending classes, withdrawing  socially, and performing poorly in school.  In 2010, there was less awareness that these  behaviours could be signs of mental health crisis, and even less knowledge of ways to help.  .

Our understanding of mental health shows that  most (70 percent) mental health challenges originate in the “transition years” of youth—the period between 15 and 24 when people start college, university, or their first jobs. We also now know that poor mental health is one of the most common health issues facing young people and that suicide is their leading health-related cause of death.

Jack Ride, is held each spring in support of Jack.org's essential work to “build a future where young people can thrive in mental wellness.” The monies raised by the ride support several different programs 1) Jack Talks 2) Jack Chapters, and 3) Be There. These programs provide young people with the knowledge, skills, and resources to care for their mental health, recognize mental health struggles, and support one another through challenging times.

As I prepare for the ride,  I am reflecting on mental health challenges in youth. Suicide remains a tragic reality, silently claiming lives, and leaving families shattered.

Youth Suicide in Canada

Statistics

Canadian Mental Health Association has compiled information about suicide, specific to youth:

  • When it comes to mental illness, youth is a critical period: most people living with a mental illness see their symptoms begin before age 18.[1]
  • Approximately 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder[2]
  • In 2011, 11% of 15-24 year olds reported experiencing depression.[3]
  • Between 2008–2009 and 2018–2019, among youth there was a 61% increase in emergency department visits and a 60% increase in hospitalizations for mental disorders. [4]
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults between 15-34 years.[5]
  • In Canada, only 1 out of 5 children receive appropriate mental health services.[6]

 

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention shares the following:

  • In Canada, each day, 12 people will end their lives by suicide.
  • For each death by suicide, the World Health Organization estimates 10 people are deeply affected. In Canada, 12 deaths by suicide will leave up to 120 people in a state of bereavement. Beyond these people, up to 120 additional people will also be affected by the death.
  • To be certain, suicide is a critical public health issue in Canada. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults (15-34 years old).
  • Based on data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, 12% of Canadians have thought about suicide in their lifetime and 3.1% have attempted suicide in their lifetime.
  • Males are three times more likely to die by suicide than females, with higher rates prevailing as a consistent trend.
  • Although men are more likely to die by suicide, females are three times more likely to attempt to end their lives. In addition, women are hospitalized 1.5 times more often than males for suicide-related behaviors. This discrepancy may be due to the fact that females tend to use less immediately lethal methods.

 

Underlying Factors contributing to Youth Suicide

Multiple underlying factors put youth at risk of suicide include:

  • Internal stressors such as overwhelming emotional pain, feelings of hopelessness, mental illness, trauma, impulsivity, or struggles with gender identification or sexual orientation
  • External stressors such as bullying, exposure to suicide, homelessness, or recent stressful events (especially actual or perceived losses)
  • A tendency for “tunnel vision” that prevents them from being able to see past the difficulties of today and into the future
  • A vulnerability to “suicide contagion” (or imitation) that may put them at risk in reaction to the suicide of a loved one, celebrity, or a fictional character they strongly identify with.
canadian statistics about suicide

 

Warning Signs of Potential Suicide

The Centre for Suicide Prevention suggests that any significant change in behaviour or mood is a warning sign that someone may be thinking about suicide. In the following examples among young people, some characteristic behaviours may be symptoms of an emerging mental health concern, including thoughts of suicide:

  • Significant mood changes:
    • Being really sad when usually they’re happy, or being really happy when they’re usually down or melancholic
    • Getting angry, annoyed, or easily frustrated
  • Risk taking, spontaneous behaviour that is out of the ordinary:
    • Drinking more alcohol or taking more drugs than usual
    • Wanting to run away from home
  • Conversation or statements that indicate hopelessness, psychological pain, feelings of worthlessness, or being a burden:
    • “What’s the point of even trying?”
    • “Nobody cares about me.”
  • Talking about or making plans for suicide
  • Marked changes in behaviour or worrisome behaviour:
    • Withdrawal (from activities they normally enjoy, social media)
    • Changes in sleep patterns
    • Anger or hostility
    • Recent increases in agitation or irritability [7]

Help is Available

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 9-1-1.

Help is available 24/7 for suicide prevention and mental health. Here are some resources:

Youth and Suicide - From the Front Lines

I reached out to Colleen McLean, owner of Sound Youth Counselling, in Parry Sound, Ontario. Sound Youth Counselling provides mental health services for youths, 10+ years old. I asked Colleen two questions.

Colleen McLean Sound Youth Counselling

 

Question 1: “How do you approach discussions about suicide with young individuals, considering the sensitivity of the topic?

Colleen says, “ I tend to approach it from a fairly matter-of-fact perspective. I find that if I use direct language, like  "Are you having thoughts of suicide?" as opposed to, "Do you think about hurting yourself sometimes?", it elicits more vulnerable responses and helps to show that I am open to having a conversation about these thoughts. So often I hear young people say that they are worried about sharing how they feel because they don't want to burden anyone with their problems. Being in a more formal role as a counsellor, I think I am able to be a trusted person who can hold space for their emotions. In my experience, young people often say it's a relief to have shared that they're having those thoughts and that they become less scary when we can talk about them.

 

Question 2: “Can you share any success stories or strategies you've employed in helping young individuals overcome suicidal thoughts and behaviors?”

Colleen says “There are different reasons that drive suicidal thoughts. They can come from a low mood or diagnosed depression and can create feelings of hopelessness and helplessness that lead someone to think about dying; this is a path we are often more familiar with. However, suicidal thoughts may also come from intense emotion dysregulation (e.g., angry, sad, frustrated, etc.). In this state, every cell of our being is screaming to get out of an emotion, so we engage in an impulsive and often maladaptive coping behaviour (e.g., yelling, hitting something, drinking, cannabis, non-suicidal-self-injury, binge-eating, etc.). Some of these behaviours are riskier than others but a person's outlet at this peak of emotion dysregulation may also be to think about suicide as a way out of the discomfort. This type of reactivity can be changed, or interrupted, with other coping mechanisms and distraction skills (or for those who like DBT, "distress tolerance" skills). I have seen significant changes in kiddos who have committed to trying new strategies to disrupt their emotion escalation - it's very possible!

Colleen has done amazing work in the community, bringing attention, action, and awareness to youth mental health. Recently, in partnership with Terry-Lynn Stevens, from the DOC ROB Fund, they put on the 1st Annual Mental Health Symposium in Parry Sound. This special event brought together incredible minds from across Ontario to help us all learn more about how to support ourselves and the young people in our lives. The program was thoughtfully designed for caregivers, educators, other professionals, and community members. Mark your calendars, the 2nd Mental Health Symposium is booked for April 26th, 2025

 

Pedaling Towards Prevention

Jack Ride is an initiative to help create awareness, spark conversations about mental health issues, raise money to support meaningful programs, and offer hope to those struggling with mental health issues.

As I prepare, on the road and in raising awareness, I have hope. Hope that together, we can break the silence surrounding youth suicide and create a culture of support, understanding, and resilience.

Consider riding, donating, or volunteering for Jack Ride, and help make a difference in the lives and families affected by suicide.

 

 

 

References:

  • [1] https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/what-we-do/children-and-youth
  • [2] https://www.cihi.ca/en/child-and-youth-mental-health-in-canada-infographic
  • [3] Stats Canada, Depression and Suicidal Ideation among Canadians aged 15-24.
  • [4] https://www.cihi.ca/en/child-and-youth-mental-health-in-canada-infographic
  • [5] https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/suicide-canada-key-statistics-infographic.html
  • [6] https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/what-we-do/children-and-youth
  • [7] Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, American Association of Suicidology, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, & National Center for the Prevention of Youth Suicide. (2015). Youth warning signs. bit.ly/33wDlpF
Peter Istvan

Peter Istvan Photography

Peter is a professional headshot photographer. Available in studio, or on location. Serving Parry SoundMuskokaSudburyNorth Bay, Barrie, Toronto, and surrounding areas. 

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