The Royal Ottawa, one of Canada's foremost mental health care centres, will announce Wednesday it is creating this country's first research chair dedicated to suicide prevention after receiving a $2-million gift from two charitable foundations.
The funds come from Do It For Daron – an Ottawa-based foundation launched by former Ottawa Senators hockey player Luke Richardson and his wife Stephanie after their 14-year-old daughter Daron died by suicide four years ago – and the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation of Canada, which has donated more than $3-million since 2000 in the fields of cardiology, oncology and psychiatry.
Noting that approximately 11 people die by suicide every day in Canada, Dr. Chris Carruthers, chair of the board of directors for the Mach-Gaensslen Foundation, says the $1-million contribution from his organization is the single largest gift it has ever bestowed.
"We all know someone who has suffered and sadly, too many of us have lost someone to suicide," said Dr. Carruthers. He added that the successful candidate will work with the Royal's Institute of Mental Health Research, which is affiliated with the University of Ottawa.
The foundations are committing $200,000 a year to support that chair over 10 years, and most of it will go into salary support.
"The person we hire will be a clinical scientist and has a clinical practice and exposure, so we're looking for ideas and breakthroughs that can be applied today," Dr. Carruthers said. "Mental health is a huge issue today, and an escalating issue. Suicide rates are increasing in all age groups and it's an area that hasn't received appropriate funding."
Stephanie Richardson said in an interview that the aim of the chair in suicide prevention research will be to work with health care providers, community groups and families to translate real knowledge into real solutions to prevent suicide and the devastating impact it has on Canadian families. "Daron's death is still surreal to be honest. It's unbelievable. You never get over something like that. It's hard to articulate but you have to find a way to live with it that doesn't overshadow every day. You have to still find a way to enjoy people in your life and figure out a way to forge your way through it," said Ms. Richardson, who also has a daughter named Morgan. Her husband was a defenceman and assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators and now serves as head coach of the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League.
"As unique as our story is to us, it's not unique," she said. "It's a story that's far too common."
Catherine Zahn, president and CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto also applauded the creation of the chair Tuesday, saying "when someone dies by suicide, it is almost always a terrible outcome of mental illness."
"We know that 90 per cent of those who die by suicide have a mental illness. There is a pressing need for better access to mental health care that needs to be addressed," Dr. Zahn said.