Murder-suicide third blow for Western dorm — (The London Free Press)

SSRI Ed note: Popular, dean's list student "struggling with mental health" accepted to grad school, kills self and mom. As use of meds goes up so do student suicides.

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The London Free Press

By Jennifer O’Brien

For the third time in six months, a student dormitory at Western University is reeling over a death — this time, after a popular undergraduate remembered for an “infectious smile and loving and caring personality,” died in a Toronto-area murder-suicide that also left his mother dead.

The death of 22-year-old Jeffrey Costa, whose body was found late last week in an upscale Richmond Hill home, along with that of his mother, came as classes ended at Western and spring exams begin.

Authorities in York Region were still investigating over the weekend, with more details about what happened expected to be released Monday.

Costa, a fourth-year social sciences student, was a mentor to first-year students at Western’s Medway-Sydenham Hall, a residence deeply affected when one of Costa’s close friends — another mentor, known as a “soph” — took his own life last November, and by another death a month earlier.

In October, first-year student Andrea Christidis was killed when she was struck by an impaired driver as she walked home to the same dorm.

“It has a huge impact on that building,” Susan Grinrod, Western’s associate vice president of housing, said of the deaths.

“Med-Syd is a small community — 600 students. It’s a very sad, sad way to leave” Western with the school year over, she said.

Costa’s death dealt a devastating blow to those who knew the engaging and community-minded student. Well liked, he’d been on the dean’s list and had recently been accepted to graduate school.

He and his mother were remembered together in an online obituary Sunday that described a loving and close-knit family that summered at a cottage in the Kawarthas, near Peterborough. Both died suddenly last Thursday, it said, with loved ones asked to consider donating to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.  [CAMH]

In the obituary, Jeffrey Costa was described as a loving son and devoted brother, who enjoyed mentoring younger students.

He had aspirations to earn a PhD and enjoyed water skiing and summers at the family cottage.

“He will always be remembered by his infectious smile and loving and caring personality,” the obituary reads.

His mother, Karen Costa, a nurse, was recalled as athletic and compassionate. She’d recently retired after 30 years at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “She inspired us all with her natural athletic abilities, kindness and compassion,” said the obituary, which recalled her many years playing competitive hockey, golfing and, more recently, curling.

She and Jeffrey’s father, Sam Costa, were married for 27 years and have two other children — Alyssa and Steven.

While the circumstances of the murder-suicide were still unknown Sunday, it comes amid growing mental health issues on college and university campuses.

“In the time I’ve been here, our services for mental health have grown exponentially,” said Western’s Grinrod, noting there are now five psychiatrists on staff, compared to “one, maybe” a couple of decades ago.

The university is in the process of hiring a second counsellor to be available to residence students who need support, she said.

Students also have free access to health services that include psychologists, therapy sessions, social workers and doctors and a peer-support centre.

In the wake of Costa’s death, grief counsellors and therapy dogs were available at Western’s student centre all weekend. Accommodations were being made for any students who didn’t feel able to write exams this week, said Grinrod.

Campus housing staff and volunteers are trained “how to listen to someone, what to say and what not to say,” she said.

But it’s not always easy to catch the signs of mental illness or suicidal tendencies, said Steve Harrison of the Canadian Mental Health Association in London.

“It’s the change in behaviour that’s the indicator, sometimes. If you’re not looking for the subtleties or nuances, or even if you are, sometimes you don’t see them,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to say there’s a fool-proof plan for preventing or even seeing the indicators. It’s very difficult. My heart always goes out to the folks who start second-guessing themselves.”

Parents should be proactive, he said. At a time like this, in a university context, it’s especially important to touch base with a loved one who may be affected by the death of a friend. He advises parents to avoid insisting kids in mourning stick out the school year to finish exams.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Canadians between ages 16 and 24, and well on its way to becoming the leading cause, said Harrison.

“That statistic in itself shows there is a crisis brewing in Canada,” he said. “It’s kind of scary, actually.”

A week ago, Harrison spoke to several students at a 24-hour campout organized by a fraternity in honour of a 21-year-old London student who took his life in 2009. Young people face enormous pressures, between parental, school and social media expectations, Harrison said.

“I was quite astonished at the number of students who were on medications for anxiety disorder and depressants,” he said. “These are 20-somethings who have the world before them, but the world looks very different for them right now.”


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Murder-suicide an “unspeakable tragedy” — (The London Free Press)

By Jennifer O’Brien

The mother of Western University student Jeffrey Costa was trying to protect her son from harming himself when the two of them died last week, her husband said in a statement released Monday.

“We, as a family, never wavered in our unconditional support for Jeffrey who had been struggling with mental health issues,” said Sam Costa, father to 22-year-old Jeffrey Costa and husband to 52-year-old Karen Costa — who both died Thursday in their Richmond Hill home.

“This unspeakable tragedy that occurred in our family home last week was the result of a loving and protective mother trying to save her son from harming himself.

“As a mother and son, they had a strong and undeniable bond. They were at the core of a very loving family. Together we shared many milestones and happy memories,” he continued. “Our family was, and still is, grounded in respect, love and compassion for one another.”

York Regional Police have been investigating the deaths as a murder-suicide since the bodies were discovered Thursday, and had expected to release more information Monday, but decided to wait in light of comments from the family, Const. Andy Pattenden said.

“We will release cause of death. It’s the not the right time when the family says they want to make a statement,” he said.

“The statement kind of alludes to what happened and gives more detail than we would put out.”

In the statement, Costa continued to talk lovingly about his wife and son and candidly about mental illness.

“Over the last 20 years with all the mental health fundraising efforts my family has been involved with, I never thought our lives would be so directly affected and altered by this illness,” he said.

“The void of their sudden loss is unexplainable.”

Jeffrey and Karen Costa were remembered together in an online obituary that described a loving and close-knit family that summered at a cottage in the Kawarthas, near Peterborough. Jeffrey is survived by a brother and a sister.

Loved ones were asked to consider donating to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Funeral arrangements have been made for mother and son, with visitation scheduled for Tuesday and the funeral Wednesday.

Western has arranged buses for both days to take students from campus to the visitation and funeral home, and says its flag on University College hill will be lowered to half staff Wednesday.

The university also has added hours for grief support — originally set for the weekend — and now extended through Tuesday.

Jeffrey Costa’s death dealt a devastating blow to those who knew the engaging and community-minded student. Well liked, he’d been on the dean’s list and had recently been accepted to graduate school.

The fourth year Social Science student had a passion for mentoring new students and did so as an orientation week leader or so-called “soph” for social science and Medway-Sydenham Hall.

However, despite his ability to brighten the world around him, those who were close to Costa said he had long suffered mental health issues. Despite having a strong support network — including friends, family and professional mental health workers — he struggled.

The 600 students who lived in the Med-Syd dormitory have been deeply affected by the death of Costa that occurred five months after the suicide of another popular Med-Syd soph and close friend of his and six months after the death of resident and first year student Andrea Christidis. Christidis was struck by an impaired driver while walking on campus.