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By Doreen Barnes
Posted Jul 28, 2011
Doreen Barnes, St. Lawrence EMC
Teen suicide is up and James Thomas knows the effects of losing a loved one as his sister Chantal took her own life. Thomas has taken this tragedy to use towards helping others who suffer from mental illness. His film, The Truth About Teenage Suicide was shown at the Brockville Arts Centre to youth, parents and seniors, on Friday, July 8.
EMC News – Close to 450 people, teens, adults and seniors filled the seats at the Brockville Arts Centre on Friday, July 8 to view a documentary film about a local teenager who had committed suicide.
It was also a night of healing and a celebration of life.
The film, ‘The Truth About Teenage Suicide” was produced by James Thomas, a videographer and marketer, whose sister Chantal had been battling bi-polar disorder for many years.
Bi-polar or manic-depressive disorder is a change in cognition and mood caused by depressive episodes. What causes the depressive episodes is unknown, except research does suggest abnormalities in communication between the nerve cells in the brain. Bi-polar refers to the cycles of high and low periods. This disorder is treatable with medication.
Thomas’ parents, Alec, Joan, and sister Rachel, gave their blessing to making this film as an opportunity to turn this tragic event into an awareness, education and prevention model to be used as a tool to open discussions.
This effort was to make other teens, as well as parents, aware of the growing incidents of suicide and how easily it can happen.
“She didn’t take her medication that night,” said Thomas, referring to his sister who went camping with friends and committed suicide.
Chantal Thomas was only 18 years old with her whole life ahead of her. But according to Thomas, she did not see a very positive future.
“She was on a couple of medications. One for depression and one for anxiety,” Thomas added.
Chantal’s friends had heard her speak of suicide several times, as well as prevented her many attempts.
“She made them keep it a secret,” he said.
During a camping trip mixed with alcohol and drugs, Chantal again voiced her need to stop the pain. But her friends ignored her since they had heard this so many times before.
Off she wandered, alone and vulnerable.
As Thomas was pored over Chantal’s sporadic diaries (random notes), art and poems, he came to realize that along with dealing with her mental illness, being bullied at school, and a drug dependency, Chantal had also been sexually assaulted.
Over the years Chantal coped by expressing herself through poems, playing music (guitar), art and the way she dressed and presented herself.
“She was definitely talented,” said Thomas. “She used this (art) as a great way to express herself, as she was not an established artist.”
Thomas shared Chantal’s deep dark art along with her poems in the documentary.
“She had some very direct quotes around the topic of drugs,” he said.
Thomas believes that her addiction to drugs probably stemmed from being sexually abused. She experimented in school and, over time, needed a substance to self-medicate and ease the pain.
“Chantal had not been taught coping methods,” said Thomas. “Not many of us as teenagers were and that’s how addictions begin and continue on because we do not have any other ways to cope with stress in our life.”
Thomas feels more open communication is key, as a society people are so busy as individuals, they don’t take the time to really listen or acknowledge their intuition when someone is struggling.
He indicated that Chantal, as well as others who are suffering, can put a very convincing mask on to pretend to be happy when in fact they are not.
“A year after Chantal passed away, I started the film as I had a chance to work with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA),” said Thomas. “I went into schools and talked about mental illness, through the TAMI (Talking About Mental Illness), program. I saw how the story impacted the youth. How they connected with it because of Chantal’s struggles and felt it was important to create a tool that showed the reality, the raw form of suicide and the effects of it. It started off as a little idea on my own video camera, and from there it just grew to what it is now.”
The film features several interviews with Chantal’s friends, as well as teens who are struggling with mental illness.
Thomas spoke with many professionals like Doctor Ian Manion, Simon Davidson of CHEO, internationally-respected Dr. Stan Kutcher, Kevin Karpler, executive director, Child and Youth Wellness Centre for Leeds and Grenville, and Lori Veltkamp, a family services and education co-ordinator with the Canadian Mental Health Association, about mental illness to better understand.
It has taken Thomas about four years with the last two years being the production phase.
He applied for film grants, but nothing came through, so he sold his car at which time funding did come from CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario).
TRUTH ABOUT SUICIDE
Thomas shared one of the truths about suicide. When someone attempts to end their life, it is because they feel they have become a burden on others.
“The harsh reality is that a suicide affects us (people closest to the sufferer),” said Thomas. “The other issue is getting help. They have to realize that they cannot do it on their own. They need a whole network of people. It’s never too late.”
According to Thomas, Chantal sought professional counseling but didn’t like the counselor.
“Chantal referred herself to counseling and didn’t necessarily connect (with the therapist) and she didn’t get the results that she may have wanted. She had tried to get into a live-in facility, but was put on a waiting list. They thought she was not an ‘at risk’. A week after she passed away, we received a letter (acceptance into the facility).”
He also thought that perhaps she was not aware that she could ask for another therapist.
“Chantal didn’t have the support network that involved someone that could help her to recognize that she could ask for another counselor,” said Thomas. “A lot of people are not aware that they can and should ask for a referral and keep trying (until they find someone they can trust). Be completely open and honest with the struggles when being assessed, which is really hard to do. Have the network support there to ensure openness and if you are suicidal, you have to say it.”
Thomas feels that his documentary is aimed at youth, those aged 8 to 25 as one of the main messages is if a friend is struggling, get help.
When asked why 25 years of age, Thomas referred to students who were going off to post secondary education and being on their own for the first time, as well as after graduation when there’s another transition into a career.
As indicated by Thomas, perhaps everyone should take notice that students are returning to school even after they have graduated.
“If they would re-establish the school system with that extra year it will help students to grow a little bit more,” said Thomas.
“What I want to do with the campaign for the fall is to set up a foundation in Chantal’s name,” said Thomas. “One of the projects is to get experts to act as part of the board, hopefully some other resources and some money to pull it all together. Once the foundation is established, to continue the presentations, create awareness in the schools about mental health and suicide prevention. Getting it into parents’ councils and educate people around youth and then to branch out into the community to focus what’s most important, our health. Secondly to recognize signs of someone who is suicidal. We need to make some changes.”
The Thomas family has been healing and hopes that this film and information being given will help others.
For more information on this film or to contact James Thomas, email firstname.lastname@example.org or logon: www.stopsuicidenow.com.
If you would like to seek professional assistance call the Local Mental Health Crisis Line at 1-866-281-2911 or contact the Child and Youth Wellness Centre of Leeds and Grenville at 1-800-809-2494.