Wednesday, September 30, 2009

“It’s good that you appreciate those letters...”

I have been in an unusually terrible mood this week and haven't been shy to let everyone around aware of this. Today was no exception - I woke up in a bad mood. I was tired, angry, anxious, and annoyed. Many of these symptoms are in line with Borderline Personality Disorder (visit, for my story), but the yucky fall weather hasn't been helping either. Regardless, I've plowed through this week with the hope that tomorrow will be better than the last.

Today is the final day to submit a personal essay to the Youth Advisory Committee for the Honouring Life Network (HLN). The HLN is looking for First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth between the ages of 17-30 to contribute their experiences with suicide and/or mental illness. If selected, youth are asked to contribute to projects of the HLN and suicide prevention initiatives.

Until this afternoon I hadn't really looked at any of the essays. A part of me really didn't know what to expect from these essays. Would they be irrelevant? Inappropriate? Graphic? Upsetting? Suicide and mental illness are difficult subjects to discuss with a family member or friend, much less to openly share personal experiences with a complete stranger (or in this case, a national organization).

Twenty-six essays, five provinces and two territories later, I started to read some of the submissions.

What happened next is difficult to describe but can be captured in an e-mail I shared with a close friend:

Me: "I'm reading all of these essays for the HLN youth advisory committee and my goodness they're making me tear up. The strength of some of these youth is just so freakin' remarkable." (Yes, I said 'freakin'. I told you it was difficult to describe.)

Friend (who asked to remain nameless): "We work in an incredibly powerful system - complex and hard to interpret, navigate and change.  I spent part of my day yesterday listening to a group of people talk to me about having Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS) disease – one with not long to live.  It's good that we get reminded, up front and personal why it is we chose to do this work.   It is often times thankless, lacks appreciation, formal acknowledgement, or recognition that we are making an impact.  It's good that you appreciate those letters." 


In this instance, I was reminded that I have the best job in the world. To the youth who shared their stories - thank you. Your strength, resilience, knowledge, and eagerness to talk about suicide and mental illness are absolutely astonishing. I am so proud to be a part of this project and I couldn't wipe this smile from my face if I tried.


For more information on the HLN Youth Advisory Committee please visit:


Monday, September 28, 2009

Seeing childhood suicide through the eyes of a survivor

The Labradorian

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.

This childhood taunt couldn't be further from the truth as children continue to be bullied and now the world of cyber bullying explodes into their lives.

"October 7, 2003 will always be the day that divides my life. Before that day my son Ryan was alive. A sweet, gentle and lanky thirteen year old fumbling his way through early adolescence and trying to establish his place in the often confusing and difficult social world of middle school. After that day my son would be gone forever, a death by suicide. Some would call it bullycide or even cyber bullycide. I just call it a huge hole in my heart that will never heal."

Click here to read more>>

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

That’s right – I said it. Now deal with it.

*Meg's Note: This was a blog I wrote for the Faces of Mental Illness Campaign (Or Faces of Mental Wellness, in my opinion). Enjoy.

Faces of Mental Illness
La maladie mentale à visage découvert
Megan Schellenberg

Megan was one of the 54 people nominated to become a national Face of Mental Illness as part of MIAW.

She writes:

That’s right – I said it. Now deal with it.

People often ask why I have taken upon Aboriginal* youth suicide prevention as my passion in both my personal and professional life. Though there are many issues facing youth that I am sympathetic, passionate and informed about, I have dedicated myself to the issue of youth suicide prevention. This is not an easy issue to advocate for – it demands an honest, relentless and unforgiving approach, and there continues to be a limited amount of research, knowledge and dialogue surrounding the issue. Moreover, a conversation that is centered on these attributes has been difficult to ignite on a personal level, much less a national one.

As many friends, family members and colleagues know, mental illness and suicide has affected me on a very personal level. Aside from my own suicide attempts and self-harmful behaviours, I was recently diagnosed with Emotional Regulation Disorder (also known as Borderline Personality Disorder). This is marked by shifting emotions, maladaptive interpersonal relationships and a fear of abandonment (to name a few). While in my teenage years, I was diagnosed with depression and subsequently treated with anti-depressants. At my worst I was harming myself a few times a week and it would usually take the form of cutting or scratching. I made a half attempt to hide it, though I am not surprised that many noticed and didn’t say anything. Although I would self harm without the intent of suicide (similar to most who self-harm) the thought was never far from my mind.

Canadians know that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15 to 24. Even more concerning, it is the leading cause of death among First Nations and Inuit youth, with rates sitting between three and 11 times higher than the national average.

I consider myself lucky because I was able to get the help that I needed to move forward to live a happy and productive life and I am only 23 years of age. Unfortunately this isn’t the case for many of my First Nations, Inuit and Métis peers. Almost 80 per cent of people who attempt or complete suicide, suffer from a mental illness; but to date, there is very limited data on the number of First Nations, Inuit and Métis who suffer from mental illness. Additionally, the state of our current mental health care system, in which only 5 per cent of funding goes towards mental health research, combined with a lack of health care professionals working in Aboriginal communities means that many of these illnesses go undiagnosed.

Mental illness is linked to many of the problems that all youth deal with. This includes things like promiscuous sex (often resulting in unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted and blood-born infections), drug and alcohol addictions, homelessness, and suicide. Not surprisingly, these are the same problems that some First Nation, Inuit and Métis youth encounter on a day-to-day basis.

If we could recognize, diagnose and treat mental illness among youth, (especially First Nation youth where the aforementioned problems occur at higher rates than in non-Aboriginal youth) there is a strong possibility that these issues would be dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner. I realize that I just attempted to oversimplify a very, very complex problem and I am quite aware that the solutions require a multifaceted, holistic approach to solve them; however, I don’t believe that this idea is so far fetched that it is unattainable during my lifetime.

In January, 2009 I was selected to sit on a youth advisory group for the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), which is working towards a national strategy to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. The MHCC is hopeful that it will bring mental illness, “Out of the shadows forever” as described by Commission Chair, Michael Kirby. I don’t advocate for this issue because I necessarily want to, but because I need to. Thankfully many people have been able to step out of this shadow – this darkness – in the hopes that it will inspire others to do the same. While it is still not easy for us to discuss mental illness and suicide under this blanket of fear, stigma and shame, we will end this silence and I move forward with a sense of empowerment that will only continue to grow.

*The term Aboriginal is used to encompass the First Nation, Inuit and Métis populations of Canada

Click here to visit the MIAW Web site>>

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Singers and musicians share inspirational music with students

Tue, 2009-09-22 12:21
News Release

Shy-Anne Hovorka, Nylin White, Missy Knott, and Chris Sutherland provided outstanding vocal performances at all 3 high schools for intermediate level and secondary level Rainy River District School Board students. These exceptionally talented performers are all healthy lifestyle artists who joined forces to do a Northwestern Ontario Aboriginal Music Tour in support of youth and Mother Earth.

Click here to read more>>

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Seventh Fire GENERATION

By: Colleen Simard
In The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway, Anishinaabe elder Edward Benton-Banai writes about the Seven Fires prophecy of his people. It's a story that predates Canada's existence.

Each prophecy -- called a fire -- is a prediction for the future.

The fires predicted great migrations, sickness and struggles over thousands of years. But it was the final, seventh fire that predicted a new generation would rise up and try to turn things around.

Click here to read more>>

Friday, September 18, 2009

“Stories of the Night Sky” Project for First Nation, Metis and Inuit Youth aged 16 to 19

A call for First Nation, Métis and Inuit aged 16 to 19 to develop their media skills while preserving the age-old tradition of storytelling. If you are interested in or have experience in storytelling, if you enjoy new media and are willing to learn, then read on.

Click here to read more>>

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tobique First Nation residents launch suicide prevention strategy

By Robert LaFrance

On Thursday morning, Sept. 10, Tobique First Nation adults and grade five students from Mah-Sos School gathered in front of Maliseet Grocery to begin a walk down to the Wellness Centre and to take part in other activities underlining Tobique's effort toward suicide prevention.

Click here to read more>>

Breaking silence around suicide

By SHAWN BELL, SRJ Reporter 15.SEP.09

Suicide remains a major problem in the Northwest Territories, where suicide rates are regularly more than twice the national average.
For the health planner of the GNWT, much of the problem has to do with the stigma of suicide that keeps people from openly discussing the issue.
“Our goal this year is to have people not be afraid to talk about suicide,” said Sara Chorostkowski, health planner for mental health with the GNWT. “The message of our campaign is that it is important to talk about it; that is what is going to save a life.”

Click here to read more>>

Friday, September 11, 2009

Call for Youth Advisory Committee members

Are you concerned about the alarming rates of suicide among First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth in Canada? Are you between the ages of 17 and 30 and have experience with suicide prevention? Do you feel like you have something to contribute to Aboriginal youth suicide prevention? If so, the Honouring Life Network (HLN) wants to hear from you!

A program of the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO), the HLN is actively recruiting First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth between the ages of 17 to 30 to be a part of the HLN Youth Advisory Committee.

The primary purpose of this committee is to contribute your personal or professional experience with suicide and/or suicide prevention towards the ongoing and upcoming initiatives of the HLN. Though suicide is often a difficult subject to discuss, it is an important issue that has affected many First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth across Canada.

Your opinions, thoughts, ideas, and initiatives are important when developing new programs and resources in suicide prevention. Moreover, the HLN believes that you – the youth – are able to provide some of the best guidance and contributions towards suicide prevention for yourself and your peers.

Click here for more information about the Committee>>

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The HLN launches suicide prevention video contest

OTTAWA, ON — In celebration of World Suicide Prevention Day, the Honouring Life Network (HLN), a project of the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO), announced an exciting new contest for First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth.

The initiative, called the HLN Suicide Prevention Video Contest, is open to First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth between the ages of 17 to 30. Youth are encouraged to submit a short video to the HLN YouTube channel that represents their creative expressions, experiences, thoughts, and initiatives regarding suicide prevention and awareness. Video cameras are being provided by the HLN if youth are unable to supply their own equipment.

Click here for more>>

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Too many young lives cut short

Carol Goar


For most of his career, Bert Lauwers was an emergency room doctor in one of Ontario's busiest hospitals. He was the kind of physician anyone would want to encounter at a time of trauma: calm, efficient and conscientious.

But the more bodies he patched up, the more certain he became that the real job of a healer was to prevent needless deaths and injuries. "As an emergency doctor, it was the easiest thing in the world to address medical conditions and make the patient feel better," he said. "But when death is entangled with social factors, it becomes much more complicated."

Click here to read more>>