Jamie Hubley, Daron Richardson, Jack Windeler, Rehtaeh Parsons, Amanda Todd – there is a virtual roll call of teen suicide victims, whose stories are known all over the country. The taboo around publicizing teen suicides has been broken, led by the parents of these teens, often to the dismay of psychiatric experts, who worry about suicide contagion. But the energy created by the explosion of talk about mental health, bullying and discrimination has helped spark any number of innovative approaches. One new approach is to let young people themselves lead.
The federal government put $250,000 behind one such program on Monday, run by the Canadian Red Cross Society, which will be used to train 2,400 people ages 13-17 to deliver workshops on bullying to at least 20 people each – a total of 50,000. There will also be youth-led forums in the Atlantic region, Ontario and British Columbia aiming to create a cadre of youth who are willing to stand up to bullies. Ottawa’s support for this program was inspired by the 2011 suicide of 15-year-old Jamie Hubley of Ottawa, who was gay and had been severely bullied. His father Allan, a city councillor, wanted to make sure his son’s death would count for something
Another program, the Jack Project, was created by the family of Jack Windeler after his suicide at Queen’s University three years ago. It sponsored a youth-run forum on mental health this winter called Unleash the Noise. One participant told the Queen’s Journal that young people have become “numb” to what they’ve hear so frequently from adults on mental health. Hence the importance of young leaders.
The world could hardly be any more full of messages that bullying is wrong (not that adults always heed those messages). Yet bullying still goes on, and even in a society in which diversity of all kinds is accepted more often than not, there are still some kinds of differences that bring negative attention on young people. And there are forms of bullying, such as ostracism, that no criminal law can touch and that adults cannot easily combat. Perhaps suicide contagion was more likely to occur in a culture in which the taboo was strong. Talking about suicide and bullying has released society’s pent-up desire to do something about these age-old problems.