Home CommentaryEditorial Talking about mental health in the wake of tragedy

Talking about mental health in the wake of tragedy

by The Concordian January 26, 2016

Few of us can imagine, let alone comprehend the sorrow currently felt in La Loche. The small community of only 3,000 people was torn apart on Jan. 22, when a teenage shooter killed two brothers in their home before opening fire at the local high school. Two teachers were killed there, and seven more were sent to the hospital, some in critical condition.

We are fortunate to live in a country where mass shootings are so rare: the CBC lists only eleven in the past 40 years, with three of them occurring in our own backyard. In 1989, 14 female students and one university employee were killed in the Polytechnique shooting; in 2006, one student was killed and 19 others injured in a shooting at Dawson College. And of course, Concordia has had its own share of tragedy: in 1992, an associate professor killed four members of his faculty on the ninth floor of the Hall building.

As always, the question comes back to mental health. While we do not know how much of a role mental health played into the La Loche shooting, the National Post said the shooter was bullied incessantly. Described as a “large, very sensitive and quiet teen,” the shooter allegedly dared students to make fun of his ears during the shooting.

This shooting may very well be a symptom of a much larger problem in La Loche: the town has the highest rate of suicide in the province, three times the national average, according to the CBC. Community leaders, also speaking to the the CBC, claim there are no resources for helping the local youth, who struggle with the abuse, violence, drugs and alcohol that runs rampant in northern communities. It’s a fertile ground for depression or worse, with no resources to treat the demons that grow beneath the surface.

As a society, we are improving our understanding of mental health, or so we’d like to believe. But incidents like the one in La Loche prove that our vulnerable are still slipping through the cracks in dangerous ways.

La Loche did not have any psychiatric treatment or mental health services available, despite the stunning rate of suicide, reported the National Post. That’s no small thing: according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 20 per cent of Canadians will struggle with a mental illness, and 8 per cent will experience major depression at some point in their lives. Of those with depression, half will never see a doctor. Ultimately, suicide will account for 24 per cent of all deaths for 15 to 24 year olds in Canada.

If these are our national statistics, one can only imagine the dire situation in La Loche.

With every tragedy comes the same rhetoric: that we need to do more to support our mentally ill. But frankly, the words have become cliché. We have talked the talk but have yet to walk the walk.

A contributor in the paper this week [story below] writes on struggling with the stigma of chronic low self-esteem.

This week is the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, dedicated to ending that very stigma and supporting mental health initiatives across the country. In 2016, we all—as Canadians, Quebecers, Montrealers, Concordians, and basic human beings—need to do better.

So sit down. We need to talk.

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