Sarnia Teen Suicides: Recent Rash Of Teen Suicides Rocks Sarnia, Ont.

A recent slew of teen suicides has rattled residents of Sarnia, Ont.

Sarnia's Morgan Vanderberghe, 14, killed herself four weeks ago and joined eight other teens who committed suicide in under two years, CTV reported. The question plaguing residents is why, youth worker Andrew Thomas told The Show with David Burrows.

“I’ve worked in Sarnia for over 15 years with troubled youth... This rash of suicides that has been happening has everybody kind of dumbstruck. They’re not sure exactly what’s going on and why it’s occurring,” he said.

Michelle Parks of the St. Clair Catholic District School Board believes the recent rash of deaths have no obvious connection, and some experts chalk up Sarnia's trend to a statistical anomaly.

In Canada, suicide makes up 24 per cent of deaths among those aged 15 to 24, and is the second leading cause of death for those between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Frequently, families see no signs of distress until a psychologist goes looking for them, suicide expert and past president of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention Antoon Leenaars told the Globe and Mail.

But when mental health resources in schools are stretched thin, recognizing the signs becomes much more difficult. Dr. Richard Goldbloom, a Canadian pediatrician, called schools “the most underdeveloped site for effective health care of any in the country” in a 2006 Senate committee report on mental health, the Toronto Star reported. A 2010 analysis of Ontario’s publicly funded schools said students often turn to teachers for help first, but they have little knowledge of mental health issues.

Education director Jim Costello has promised the school will staff additional guidance officers until the end of the school year. However, Sarnia's resources outside schools have also been found wanting, Thomas noted.

“If you look at our hospital, there (are) no youth beds for mental illness in the hospital," he said. "Our psychiatrists in town are bursting at the seams. They can’t accept any more kids."

Dr. Stan Kutcher, a psychiatrist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, also speculated copycats and glamourization may cause suicide clusters in some instances, CTV reported.

In fact, researchers from the Public Health Agency of Canada suggested websites, blogs and chatrooms promoting suicide have become increasingly worrisome.

"Such sites are obviously troubling; yet, paradoxically, the Internet and social media also hold potential benefits for the prevention of suicide," the study's authors wrote.

Experts have noted issues such as bullying have played a role in teen suicides, especially among gay youth. New anti-bullying legislation in Ontario has brought in new provisions to protect students from harassment based on gender or sexual orientation.

Many experts have suggested suicide prevention and awareness must begin at home, and encourages parents to broach the subject with their kids. Youth at risk of suicide may exhibit some of these warning signs, provided by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

  • Sudden change in behaviour (positive or negative)
  • Apathy, withdrawal, change in eating patterns
  • Unusual preoccupation with death or dying
  • Giving away valued personal possessions
  • Signs of depression; moodiness, hopelessness
  • One or more previous suicide attempts
  • Recent attempt or death by suicide by a friend or a family member

Are you in crisis? Need help? In Canada, find links and numbers to 24-hour suicide crisis lines in your province here.