‘Kids Just Feel So Hopeless’: Mom on Loss, Suicide Prevention, and Men’s Mental Health

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WARNING: This article contains sensitive descriptions of suicide. Please read with discretion.

By all accounts, things were going well for Michele Haire’s 26-year-old son.

He had recently graduated from Nova Scotia Community College and was thriving in his job as a pharmacy technician.

But while Cameron was excited about his career, there were also many things weighing on him, his mother remembers.

“There was a homeless camp (near our house) and it really bothered him that we as a society could allow people to live like that in all weather conditions. He was worried about global warming… he just felt like the world was really going backwards,” she said.

“And hatred, hatred, any kind of hatred against the LGBTQ community really bothered him.”

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To support her son, the family would supply the encampment with food and water, and create a welcoming space for LGBTQ2 friends at their home in Lower Sackville, N.S., outside Halifax.

“I tried to talk to him about maintaining and managing things at our level because we had no control over things at the global level,” she said.

“We all tried to do that, but I think he was just so discouraged by the state of the world and so discouraged that he didn’t feel like he could move forward.”

The first time he was in crisis, Michele remembers, she received a call from his employer because he hadn’t shown up for work. When she got home, she found him in dire need of help.

“We called the 24-hour mental health crisis line and they said to come. There were no other resources or options. “We didn’t have a GP we could contact to see if his medications needed to be adjusted,” she said.

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“I ended up calling virtual care… but was told they don’t deal with mental health situations. And Cameron didn’t want to go to the emergency department because he works there. He works in the hospital and was at risk of running into colleagues.”

Click to play video: 'Mental Health Week and support for Nova Scotians'

Mental Health Week and support for Nova Scotians

He was connected to a psychologist through his Employee Assistance Program (EAP). Michele says she’s not sure what happened, but six weeks later he died by suicide.

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“He left our house in the middle of the night and got drugs to end his life,” she said. “We are just absolutely devastated.”

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That was August 11, 2023.

Now she, her husband and Cameron’s older brother are all looking for answers. And full of worries.

“I’m worried about my (oldest son) because the things Cameron was worried about are (my other son) too. And so do many of Cameron’s colleagues,” she said.

“Every mother I speak to who reaches out, their children have the same worries and concerns. And it’s so scary…. These children feel so hopeless about the future.”

Michele is speaking out in light of Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, suicide rates are approx three times higher in men compared to women. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults aged 15 to 34.

Seeking help is not a sign of weakness

Simon Sherry, a clinical psychologist and professor at Dalhousie University’s department of psychology and neuroscience, says statistics do show that suicide disproportionately affects men.

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“Somewhere between 70 and 75 percent of those who die by suicide in Canada are men. And that gender imbalance, where there are more men than women, is true in every country in the world,” he said.

Sherry says more initiatives and support should focus on vulnerable citizens, as ‘male stereotypes’ seem to have no room for mental illness.

“Somewhere between 12 and 15 percent of men will be diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives. And we’re not good at helping those guys. The stigma sets in and the way we socially construct mental illness in our society too often does not include men,” he said.

The answer, Sherry says, is to understand that seeking help is not a sign of weakness.

“It’s a powerful thing to do, and often a difficult thing to do. So we have to go against male gender norms that view mental illness as a personal failure and a personal responsibility,” he said.

“I’m going to try to do this for him.”

For Michele, her son’s struggle has shown her just how much young people are dealing with.

“I think since COVID and the economy being the way it is, I think it’s really affected our young people in terms of what they can look forward to in the future. My son said, “I’ll never have my own house.” And that’s how they all feel,” she says.

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“We also had concerns growing up. And he said, ‘The difference is we see it on our phone 24 hours a day.’ He said, “You may have seen it on the news, but it’s in our faces 24 hours a day.”

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Last fall, legislative changes were made to Nova Scotia’s Health Service and Insurance Act to allow mental health and addiction care to be provided as part of a publicly funded health care system.

At that point, the government had invested $65 million in mental health and addiction care over the past two years.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia introduces new legislation for universal care for mental health, addictions'

Nova Scotia will introduce new legislation for universal care for mental health and addictions

Michele believes more can be done and would like to see walk-in clinics that focus on mental health care, or more access to mental health practitioners.

“I really think if we could have gotten Cameron a little more help and they could have adjusted his medications, we might be in a different situation today,” she said.

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“There are changes that need to be made. It’s too late for Cameron, but hopefully it helps someone else. So I’m going to try to do this for him.’

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, there are resources available. In an emergency, you can call 911 for immediate assistance.

In Nova Scotia, the provincial mental health and addiction crisis line can be reached at 1-888-429-8167.

For an overview of support services in your area, please visit the website Canadian Suicide Prevention Association at suicideprevention.ca.

Learn more about Prevent suicide with these warning signs and tips on how you can help.

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