Letter to Editor – Responding to Suicides in Woodstock

News Reported on June 13, 2016

This letter was sent to 34 newspapers across Ontario. To date, it has been published in 10 newspapers and has led to a follow-up article by a reporter at the Brampton Guardian. 

The suicide of five high school students in Woodstock, Ontario in recent months, and the suicidal ideation of 39 others, have raised alarm not only within that community but also across the country, as parents, schools and professionals struggle to find solutions to this devastating phenomenon. Depression, anxiety, dislocation, alienation and bullying have all been identified by students and parents as factors contributing to the emotional pain that has placed these young people at risk of taking their own lives. 

The walkout and call to action by high school students in Woodstock on June 7th was not simply a cry for help but, more importantly, it represents a significant opportunity to engage students in helping to identify ways to address critical mental health concerns. Both short and long-term solutions are needed. This will require the involvement of students and their families in identifying how services should be shaped and delivered; collaboration by schools and community agencies; and appropriate levels of government funding.  

Students who spoke to the media noted the need for full-time mental health counsellors/social workers to be more readily available in schools, along with support services accessible in the moment when distress arises. Others highlighted the need for mental health to be part of the school curriculum along with additional training for teachers to help them to better understand the warning signs of suicide. It is vital that we work together to ensure that preventative and crisis services are accessible for youth and their families. If not, what does the future hold for our children and our communities?  

Joan MacKenzie Davies, MSW, RSW
Executive Director
Ontario Association of Social Workers