By Chris Coulter, Maddie's Dad.
Many of you know our family's story by now. Our daughter Maddie tragically took her own life at the tender age of fourteen and forever changed the lives of our family and friends. Sadly, this is not a unique story. Maddie's Mom, our boys and friends have made it a personal mission to tell our story, bring greater awareness to youth mental illness and help create better access for those families currently affected by this troubling disease.
With all this attention being paid to this illness, largely promoted through the likes of social media, are we fuelling the fire and putting the idea of suicide in our youths' heads?
When I was growing up, suicide was rarely discussed largely because it was seldom publicized. I personally never knew anyone who committed suicide or even attempted it for that matter. We have all dealt with our share of heartache and disappointment growing up but I never looked at ending my life because of being dumped or a bad test result.
By discussing mental illness and suicide publicly, we may be reducing the stigma but are we also potentially glamourizing suicide as an option for our youths' despair. I know this isn't the intent of these campaigns and all the positive steps being taken to help extinguish this epidemic. But are there many youth today that can make the claim that they've never been affected by someone's suicide or attempted suicide?
Of these thousands of followers, how many do these kids actually know or even understand the followers' intent? Social media opens us up to scrutiny, vulnerability and personal attacks. Personal anecdotes are subject to criticism and abuse
Social media isn't going anywhere. In fact, there are so many new social media outlets being introduced every month. I look at some of these youths that have a thousand, five thousand or ten thousand followers. A single post can impact the lives of tens of thousands of people. That is powerful and yet hauntingly dangerous. Of these thousands of followers, how many do these kids actually know or even understand the followers' intent?
Social media opens us up to scrutiny, vulnerability and personal attacks. Personal anecdotes are subject to criticism and abuse. I've been supported through many Facebook friends through our ordeal with Madeline and my business is promoted by the blogs I post on LinkedIn. I'm extremely grateful and humbled by the number of reads and shares that I get after a post. My blog is read and shared by thousands of readers around the world. The power of social media is incredible and its reach is mind-boggling.
With all the good, also comes social media's detractors. There are people who read my posts about Madeline and think that I'm living on the edge of despair and in jeopardy of taking my life. People will always interpret what they want to interpret but for me it's therapy. Although I'm not always in the mood for writing, it does help me and puts things into perspective.
I feel like I have a social obligation because I receive a lot of personal messages from people telling me that my blogs have helped answer questions they may have, to seek help or gives them comfort in knowing that they're not alone in their suffering. For me, the benefit of social media far outweighs the public scrutiny that it may bring me.
The cruelty amongst some kids today is unconscionable. Do they even know what they're putting into print?
It's social media and the youth that concerns me. A case in point, a close family friend and I talk regularly. I'm honoured that he feels comfortable in confiding in me. He's the very reason why I feel social media is dangerous. In a game that's measured by likes and followers, we allow people into our forums that we shouldn't and invite others' ulterior motives and public scrutiny. This wonderful kid has been told by his "friends" to go kill himself and this comment was liked by several other "friends".
The cruelty amongst some kids today is unconscionable. Do they even know what they're putting into print? In a world that celebrates diversity, how can this be tolerated? The sad part that my young friend isn't the only victim and cyberbullying has caused so many youths to take their own lives.
Amanda Todd was one such victim of cyberbullying. The weight of this burden eventually caused her so much grief and anguish that she took her own life. A young, beautiful life extinguished far too early. Amanda's Mom, Carol Todd has made it her life purpose to bring awareness to cyberbullying through The Amanda Todd Legacy Society. Carol is doing amazing work. She speaks at events around the world. She influences public policy. She is making politicians, educators, parents and youth think twice about what they post and that these actions have consequences.
Let's have these real conversations with our kids. Let's make it our business to be in our kids' online and real lives.
We need to protect and preserve our youths' innocence in real life and online. For as much as Carol's work is gaining momentum, we need more champions like Carol and less victims like Amanda.
Let's have these real conversations with our kids. Let's make it our business to be in our kids' online and real lives. Let's make our kids feel supported even though there are times where they feel very alone and vulnerable. Let's not be naive that this only happens to other people's kids.
Please share and help to support The Maddie Project by bringing greater awareness and access for youths and their families affected by depression and other mental illnesses.
Please share and help to support The Amanda Todd Legacy Society that focuses on awareness and the well-being of individuals with respect to prevention and awareness relating to bullying, cyber abuse and internet safety as well as resources and education that encourage mental wellness and healthy living.
Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Maddie Project is a community effort in support of youth struggling with depression and other mental health related concerns. Driven by community collaboration and events, the project's goals are to raise awareness by sparking conversations about youth depression and mental health concerns as well as to help provide uninhibited access to support for youth and their families.
The Maddie Project was founded in April 2015 in memory of Madeline Grace German Coulter. To date the project has engaged 100s of thousands in active conversations around youth mental health and has raised over $1 million dollars in partnership with North York General Hospital Foundation towards the development of Maddie's Healing Garden and support of other child and adolescent mental health services at North York General Hospital.
One in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime Source: Canadian Mental Health Association
Nearly half of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem. Source: CMHA
Latest studies showed more than 1.3 million young Canadians have a mood disorder or addiction. Two-thirds had symptoms before the age of 15. Source: Statistics Canada, Government of Canada
Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15- to 24-year-old Canadians, second only to accidents. In 2012, 261 Canadian kids and teens took their own lives. Source: CMHA, Statistics Canada
LGBTQ youth face about 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers Source: CMHA Ontario
First Nations youth are at a higher risk. The suicide rate among First Nations youth is roughly five to seven times higher than that of the general population. Source: Parliament of Canada study, 2014
People with mental illness and addictions are more likely to die prematurely than those without. Mental illness can cut 10 to 20 years from a person’s life expectancy. Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Contending with her bipolar disorder brought Yashi Brown to poetry, and with it, she's trying to end the stigma of mental illness.
If you need help, visit ementalhealth.ca to search for services in your area. Or call the Kids' Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, it's Canada's only free phone counselling service for youth under 20.
More From Frame Of Mind:
- Our Daughter Fell Through The Cracks Of Our Mental Health System
- Depression Is More Than Being Sad
- Suicide Prevention: I Want Other Families To Know What Ours Didn't
- False Self Syndrome: The Dangers Of Living A Lie To Fit In
- Depression Isn't A Personality Flaw
- Asking For Help Is The Most Important Step
Follow The Maddie Project on Twitter: www.twitter.com/maddie_project