CTV Investigates: Touched by Suicide
Published Wednesday, February 13, 2013 5:40PM EST
Last Updated Thursday, February 14, 2013 6:53PM EST
Part 1: More than 1,000 people in Waterloo Region attempt suicide each year
Each year in Waterloo Region, more than 1,000 people attempt suicide.
It’s a startling statistic to many.
But to those who have been touched personally by the silent epidemic, it’s not the least bit surprising.
Growing up in Elmira in the 1960s, Cathy Read-Wilson remembers feeling that she didn’t quite fit in with her friends and classmates.
Those feelings intensified as she moved into her teenage years, ultimately culminating in multiple suicide attempts.
“It’s that feeling of overwhelmedness and just wanting to get away and escape,” she tells CTV.
“You just can’t handle it, or feel you can’t handle it.”
Read-Wilson says she was able to cover up her first attempt on her own life and hide it from her parents.
The second time, one of her friends found out and contacted a doctor, who prescribed Read-Wilson with antidepressants.
The medication helped somewhat, but suicidal thoughts persisted. In the summer of 2010, Read-Wilson once again tried to end her life.
“Things started to precipitate that day, and I knew it wasn’t in a good direction,” says Read-Wilson.
“I think I sent out 20 emails. At that point I was very subtle in asking for help, and I was just wanting that phone call or email back, but it didn’t really happen.”
Read-Wilson says she has little recollection of the events of that day, but remembers hopping on her bike and taking off down a path, with suicide as the only thing on her mind.
She survived, but there was no covering up this time. After struggling in silence for decades, her family – including three children – were suddenly aware of a problem Read-Wilson had been trying to hide.
But although she expected her family to be ashamed of her, Read-Wilson was instead shocked to see how willing they were to help.
“As much as people think their family and friends won’t understand, you would be surprised at how much support you can get,” she says.
It was through the kindness of her family that Read-Wilson learned she could turn to the other people in her life when she felt her mind slipping.
In the three years since that incident, Read-Wilson has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She says she still has thoughts of suicide, but has taken up photography and says it helps her see the world in a different way.
She’s also begun to talk openly about her story more often, in the hope that it will reach and help others experiencing suicidal thoughts.
“Use other people to help you, because it’s not easy,” she says.
“The other thing is, from then on, expect it to be a heck of a lot of work. Do it – as hard as it is, do it.”
Part 2: Cambridge woman raising awareness of suicide two years after losing husband
More than two dozen people die from suicide every year in Waterloo Region.
Family members are often surprised to learn of the deaths, wishing they had known the full extent of the problems being experienced by their love one so they could have helped them.
That was certainly the experience of Shawna Percy-MacDonald, whose husband Neal took his own life in 2011.
“One of the things that he was so good at was being who he needed to be on the outside so you would never know that his entire world was falling apart on the inside,” Percy-MacDonald tells CTV.
Percy-MacDonald knew her husband had his struggles. He had overcome a drug addiction and was battling with mental illness.
But there were also happier times, like when the two of them travelled the world together, helping those in need.
“Even though, like every other couple, we didn’t agree on everything, the one place we always worked so well together was when it came to reaching out to other people,” says Percy-MacDonald.
That’s why she was shocked when she first received a phone call telling her he had attempted to kill himself.
Neil survived that attempt, but his mental health began to deteriorate. He turned to alcohol, shut himself off from family and friends, and ultimately made another attempt on his life, this one successful.
“He didn’t call me back, and I knew something was wrong,” recalls Percy-MacDonald.
Moving past the death of her husband was not easy for Percy-MacDonald, but she’s found that sharing her story and telling others about life after the suicide of a loved one have helped give her focus.
“Something I would want people to know is (that) there is hope and there is a better quality of life,” she says.
Blogging and public speaking are what led Percy-MacDonald to that better quality of life, but she says everyone must find their own way to move past the sudden death of a loved one.
Part 3: Suicide second most common cause of death for Canadian teens
Teenagers are hit particularly hard by suicide, with 500 Canadian teens taking their own lives each year – second only to car crashes among the most common causes of death for that age group.
In 2004, Trevor Broome was one of those 500.
The Kitchener teen was an avid hockey player with a knack for making people smile. But one day in February, without telling anybody, he skipped class, headed home and killed himself.
Later that day, his family found him.
“I’ll never forget that moment,” says sister Kelsey Broome, who was 11 at the time.
“It’s the worst day of my life, and it always will be.”
There was no suicide note, no way to tell what was running through Trevor’s mind. There weren’t any warning signs either.
“He was a popular kid,” says Kelsey.
“He wasn’t lonely. He didn’t have any visible issues. If you looked at him, you didn’t see it.”
Only later did clues bubble up to the surface. As it turned out, Trevor had visited different doctors in an attempt to get help.
Kelsey says her brother’s concerns weren’t taken seriously – the doctors, the only people he attempted to open up to, weren’t listening.
In the nine years since Trevor’s death, Kelsey says she’s had her own dark thoughts. So does Zaq Larocque, a friend of Kelsey’s.
But they say what ultimately kept them alive was wanting to spare their families from the grief and pain the Broomes felt upon losing Trevor.
“I don’t want them to think they couldn’t stop it, or they didn’t matter, or they weren’t important enough for me to stay around,” says Larocque.
Instead, they say their fight now is to help other teens open up about suicidal thoughts.
“It needs to be brought out in the open,” says Kelsey.
“It needs to be a topic we can talk about without feeling ashamed of ourselves.”