September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Every year, more than 800,000 people around the world die by suicide and up to 25 times as many make a suicide attempt. Suicide accounts for 24 per cent of all deaths among 15 to 24 year olds in Canada.
In February of 2013 that statistic became a reality for the family and friends of Arthur’s Steven Hutchison. A talented hockey player, he took his life in his university dorm room.
Five years ago, his family began organizing activities, dubbed #GetinTouchForHutch, in an effort, Steven’s mother Myrna said, “to start a conversation amongst youth and to begin breaking down the walls of stigma that are so strongly associated with mental illness.”
Steven was not diagnosed with a mental illness. According to the organization’s website, “sadly no one, not even those closest to him, had any idea how much he was struggling… in silence.”
More than $250,000 has been raised in support of youth mental health projects by the organisation’s initiatives, including the installation of 24 Buddy Benches in schools from Aberfoyle in the south all the way up to Owen Sound in the north.
Buddy Benches, according to the website, are designed to foster friendships, support kindness and inclusion and provide “awareness on our Mental Health message of #NeverAlone and to promote an opportunity for conversations to begin on the playground.”
The very first Buddy Bench was introduced at St. John’s Catholic School in Arthur. Each bench is a joint financial contribution between the parent council or school and the organization.
At a Canada Day fundraiser in Arthur, Myrna Hutchison said her family had no inkling that their son was going to take his life by suicide and that their lives were going to be changed forever.
“We acknowledge that pain that we continue to experience as we wonder how we ever got here in the first place,” she said. “When you lose someone to suicide, you also lose any sense of what was once considered normal in your life.”
The family’s priorities and perspectives have changed, she said.
“You start to view people differently because now you are trying to see into their soul rather than only have a view of what you can see on the outside and you listen to every single word that is being said to you and the way that it is communicated because you fear that you may miss a cry for help or some sort of message that you might not otherwise pick up on,” she said.
Myrna said her family had just assumed Steven understood that “any problem that exists can be tackled together and the weight will get lighter when you each (hold) a part of it… that [when] they are having trouble seeing that little glimmer that you will be there to shine the light for them.”
The organization joins forces with schools, sporting organizations and the community as a whole, Myrna said, “to share messages of hope and to provide youth with awareness information, tools and resources that they need to work through those difficult days.”
The goal – no more silence, no more stigma, no more suicide.
The organization’s fifth annual race day/community event, a partnership with the Arthur Optimist Club, was held in Arthur on July 1 and attracted hundreds of runners and walkers. The event also featured a post race lunch, children’s activities, musical entertainment and silent auction.
Among the guest speakers at the event was Garrett McFadden, a Kincardine native who is captain of the Guelph Storm. He spoke about his initiative called McFaddens’ Movement.
The movement looks to make a connection with minor athletes by highlighting not only the pressures of sport, but also the significance of talking about mental health in hopes of changing the stigma surrounding athletes.
Minor hockey teams are invited to have Garrett share his story about the pressures of being a teenaged hockey star, along with a member of the Canadian Mental Health Association. Teams can participate in the program prior to a practice and the Guelph Storm captain joins their practice afterwards. If teams choose, they can also participate in a fundraising contest with other minor hockey teams. The team with the most money for McFadden’s Movement and mental health will win tickets to the Guelph Storm Canadian Mental Health Night on Feb. 3, along with other prizes.
Myrna also spoke glowingly about Jordan Scholten, last year’s Ontario Miss MidWest, who chose #GetInTouchforHutch as the charity to promote and raised funds for during her reign. Jordan raised enough funds to roll out three Buddy Benches
“She is a committed and caring volunteer,” Myrna said.
“Our goal of reducing the stigma that is attached to mental illness is a lofty one. “#GetinTouchforHutch, the you’s, the me’s, the Garrett’s and the Jordan’s – we are going to make this change happen together. No one person is able to do this on their own. It’s going to take all of us as [a] collective… to make that happen,” she said.
“Please keep having those conversations about mental health with those who you love and who surround you with their love, learn as much as you can abut mental health and continue to be supportive of others who may be struggling,” she concluded. “Little by little we will remove brick by brick that invisible yet ever so invasive wall of stigma that creates such a road block for people to be able to reach out for the help that they need at the exact time that they need it.”
Schools or organizations interested in breaking down the walls of stigma attached to mental illness can contact Myrna Hutchison at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on McFadden’s Movement, contact the Guelph Storm’s Hockey Club’s community relations coordinator at email@example.com