Last week’s revelation that local teen suicide attempts have increased 143 per cent in the last five years comes as no surprise to Dr. Pat Smith, “because it’s almost like a silent epidemic.”
Smith is the Windsor family doctor who became so alarmed by the suicides of young people he knew — a niece and nephew, patients and acquaintances — he spearheaded Stigma Enigma, an three-year-old organization dedicated to raising local awareness, overcoming the enigma and providing more help to youth facing a mental health crisis.
It recently announced Margaret Trudeau would be guest speaker at its annual Mingle for Mental Health Nov. 12 at the Caboto Club. The money raised goes to Maryvale Adolescent and Family Services, which has been coping with surging demand from teens with very serious mental health issues.
“They’re growing up in a different environment than we had,” said Smith. Stigma Enigma hopes to reduce the risk of youth developing mental illness “so they don’t get so desperate they contemplate suicide.”
In the previous two Mingles, a couple hundred people attended and $40,000 to $50,000 was raised. But this year’s move to a bigger venue with such a high-profile speaker as Trudeau opens the door for up to 1,200 attendees. Tickets are available at the Riverside Medical Centre Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., at Maryvale Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and online at stigmaenigma.ca.
Smith said losing patients to suicide has been the worst part of being a family doctor. “It’s pretty frustrating, especially when you look at the numbers now that keep escalating.”
On Monday, Canadian Mental Health and the local health unit reported that the number of emergency department visits by teens for intentional self harm rose 143 per cent from 2010 to 2015. Maryvale’s executive director Connie Martin blamed such factors as bullying and cyber bullying, stresses at home (like domestic violence), and the desperation of LGBT teens who feel they can’t tell anybody.
Twenty-four per cent of deaths by young people ages 15 to 24 are suicides, said Smith, compared to 16 per cent for people 25 to 44. “But it’s not something we really talk about.”
He’s hoping that Trudeau’s appearance Nov. 12 will tell everyone who deals with mental illness to not be afraid to speak out, and to talk to a family member or friend about getting help. The mother of the current prime minister and former wife of the late PM Pierre Trudeau has become a mental health advocate, courageously open about her own mental illness — bipolar disorder.
Smith said he looks with admiration at how causes such as Hospice and the cancer centre receive phenomenal support from people in the community. “If we could get that sort of support going toward mental health it would be huge for our community.”