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MP's widow makes case for national suicide-prevention plan

Denise Batters, whose husband Regina MP Dave Batters killed himself in 2009, appears before a Commons health committee on March 8, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

To a casual observer of Parliament, Dave Batters was the last guy who would take his own life. The Saskatchewan Conservative was one of the most upbeat and engaging young rookie MPs when he was first elected in 2004.

So it came as a shock, four years later, when Mr. Batters told Canadians he would not seek re-election in the riding of Palliser due to unresolved mental health issues.

"I have been ill for the past few months, dealing with anxiety and depression. As well, I overcame a dependency on certain prescribed medications (benzodiazepines)," he said in the statement announcing his departure from politics. "I make this very personal disclosure with the hope that others who suffer from these conditions will seek the assistance they need."

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The admission was an act of bravery that his wife, Denise, says has motivated her work to prevent other men from dying by their own hand.

"Many men suffering with severe anxiety and depression think they are alone in their suffering. They think no one else could possibly have felt like this before," Ms. Batters told the Commons health committee on Thursday morning. "We must let them know they are not alone."

Many of them feel they are a huge burden and everyone would be better off without them, which leads them to consider death as a way out, Ms. Batters said.

"They need to know their family and friends want to help. They don't consider them to be a burden. For those of us now without those loved ones in our lives, we would do anything we could to have them back with us."

The health committee, which is populated with politicians who knew Mr. Batters well, is studying a private member's bill introduced by Conservative MP Harold Albrecht that would establish a national framework for suicide prevention.

In 2008, Mr. Batters started to feel extreme stress. His mind was racing to the extent that he could not eat or sleep. He started taking prescription medication to ease the anxiety. But then his pill use escalated and he became dependant. He was hospitalized, underwent a detoxification program, and slipped into a deep depression.

Quitting his job as an MP did not end his internal struggles and, on June 29, 2009, Mr. Batters committed suicide. He was just shy of his 40th birthday.

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A year later, Ms. Batters held a golf tournament in honour of her late husband. It raised $20,000 which was used to pay for a television commercial targeting men between the ages of 30 and 50 who find themselves in the grips of depression.

The commercial is still available online. Ms. Batters hopes people will share it on their Facebook pages or by Twitter to spread the message of awareness, which she described as her husband's legacy.

Ms. Batters said friends and families of suicide victims sometimes feel they must conceal the truth of how their loved ones died. But, she said, talking openly about her husband's suicide has helped her to deal with his loss.

"I want to talk about Dave, particularly with people who knew him and loved him," Ms. Batters told the committee, barely restraining her emotions. "I have had many people say to me 'I wasn't sure if I should mention Dave to you because I thought that might be painful for you.' However, there nothing that brightens my day more than hearing a new story about Dave. He was such a funny, friendly person he deserves to be remembered often for all of those great qualities."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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