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Jack Windeler committed suicide at the age of 18. (Jack Project photo)
Jack Windeler committed suicide at the age of 18. (Jack Project photo)

How a father's sorrow became the project of a lifetime Add to ...

It was March 2010 when Eric Windeler took the call from the police. They didn't tell him anything - they couldn't - other than that they were coming. His mind scrambled to figure out who it was about, but he knew where his parents were, where his wife Sandra was, where two of his kids, Ben and Julia, were.

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He became certain, pretty quickly, that something was wrong with his son, Jack, who was in his first year at Queen's University.

But Mr. Windeler had no idea that Jack had died by suicide.

He had no idea that by early November, Jack had stopped going to classes, and that his floormates had noticed him becoming more withdrawn.

"I had talked to him on the Sunday, Sandra had talked with him the night before, they had texted back and forth the day of - that's how well he was able to hide it from us," said Mr. Windeler, 50.

But people deal with grief in different ways. And Mr. Windeler needed to understand what happened.

He took temporary leave from his job as a partner in two small businesses to research issues of mental health and created the Jack Project, a national initiative with Kids Help Phone and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Its focus is to help youth going from high school to university engage in dialogue about mental health with their friends and families.

Now the Jack Project is Mr. Windeler's full-time job.

"I have a close family, and a son who was loving and loved. But you have to go beyond those surface conversations and go deeper about what's going on in the inner mind," he said.

The project, which will involve 30 schools next year, involves reaching out to universities and high schools and connecting them with best-in-class mental health programs, and the creation of an online live-chat counselling system.

In many ways, it's all part of passing along to other parents what he's learned so that they can "find the Jacks who may not be able to reach out for help themselves."

"We can't just go away and hide," said Mr. Windeler. "I only wish what I knew now, I knew a year ago."

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