- HALIFAX (CP) - Barb Haley
recalled the deaths of her two sons Friday as she addressed a symposium
that suggested more young people are suffering mental illnesses that could
lead to suicide. "My youngest son, Luke, was a little guy with a
really impish little grin who delighted in hiding the TV controller on
his father," said Haley. "His favourite expression was, 'That
wouldn't be prudent.' At the age of 12, he did something very imprudent
and he took his own life."
- The following year, Haley's 16-year-old son Ben committed
suicide after battling grief and depression. "(He) just felt he should
have known about his brother and blamed himself," Haley told an audience
of more than 400 psychiatrists, teachers and social workers.
- There were few signs Luke, who Haley described as a smiling,
happy child, was troubled. But the two boys did suffer migraine headaches,
an illness affecting the central nervous system that Haley believes spurred
their deaths. Haley's painful story was all too familiar to Maritime health
workers who gathered to warn that mental illness capable of leading to
suicide is occurring earlier and in greater severity.
- Vivek Kusumakar, head of child and adolescent psychiatry
at Dalhousie University, said today's children suffer problems more commonly
associated with adults. "We're beginning to learn that our old concept
that children just grow out of it, that it's only adults who develop psychiatric
disorder, is wrong," he said.
- Kusumakar said one in five young people suffer from some
form of mental illness, which can range from attention deficit disorder
- Geneticists have noted higher incidences of mental illnesses
at younger ages and that some conditions appear earlier in successive generations.
- This, combined with greater stresses and greater access
to weapons and harmful drugs, has led to increased suicide rates, said
Kusumakar. "The means of suicide can be available more readily ...
whether it be through guns, through drugs, through prescribed medications,
or even motor vehicle accidents," Kusumakar said.
- A symposium news release stated that suicide now surpasses
car accidents as the leading cause of death among adolescents, having increased
156 per cent over the last 20 years.
- It cited the Canadian Mental Health Association for its
numbers, but an association spokesman said suicide was only a leading cause
of death among men aged 25 to 30. Statistics Canada figures from 1997
put suicide second only to car accidents as a leading cause of death for
people aged 14 to 25.
- However, many experts believe that between three and
five per cent of car deaths were actually suicide-related, said Kusumakar.
"We know that a small but significant number of motor vehicle accidents
may be related to very high risk-taking suicidal behaviours."
- Parents and school officials were alarmed earlier this
year by a spate of teen suicides at a New Brunswick high school. Three
Dieppe students killed themselves during the previous school year and six
have died in the past four years.
- A report card on the health of Canadians revealed in
September that teens felt increasingly stressed out and that 18- and 19-year-olds
were most prone to depression out of all age groups. "The world that
we're living in now is much more complex and difficult for all people,"
said Rod Evans, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at a Halifax children's
hospital. "(Youngsters) are dealing with a broader range of social
difficulties than they were (before)."
- Illnesses facing children include behavioural problems
such as attention deficit disorder and ones that persist into adulthood,
such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorders and eating disorders.
- However, Evans said most children are physically and
mentally healthy. "The adolescent turmoil of continued angst and chronic
sadness and conflict with parents, that's really a myth," he said.
"The majority of adolescents are very functional."
- Unfortunately, the myth tends to influence how society
and parents see youngsters, said Evans, keeping some children from getting
the treatment they need.
- "If they do suffer problems of long-term sadness,
I think there's a tendency to see it as just a problem of growing up, whereas
in fact it isn't. It's usually the sign of some kind of problem that needs