Tom Budd is speaking out to end the stigma around suicide after losing his two sons to it. - Contributed

Ending the stigma around suicide, loved ones speak out

A Kelowna philanthropist and Penticton radio host share stories after losing loved ones to suicide

A Kelowna philanthropist who lost his sons to suicide wants to bring attention to mental health issues and the lack of services for people who have loved ones who died by suicide.

Tom Budd lost his sons, Dillon, 13, and Payton Budd, 18, to suicide. He found both his sons in his home, Payton in 2017 and Dillon in 2015.

Budd shared his journey to recovery using conventional talk therapy, brain scanning and ketamine injections to heal his emotional scars on BuzzFeed and has made it his mission to help others who have gone through similar experiences.

His focus is on prevention, stigma and mental health, but notes there are few resources for family and friends in the public sector.

“For everybody that takes their life, there’s a large number of people affected from a mental health perspective… My dad lost both of his grandchildren and he’s 81.”

After Dillon’s death by suicide in 2015, Payton started to show signs of depression.

His grades were slipping at the University of Victoria, he was starting to isolate himself, wasn’t eating properly, and wasn’t as active in sports, Budd said. He believes Dillon’s death played a role in Payton’s depression.

By sharing his experiences, he hopes others will as well.

“I thought if I can get through this, I can be a spokesperson,” he said. “People didn’t want to talk.”

This year’s Ride Don’t Hide in Kelowna, dedicated to the siblings, raised more than $100,000 for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Kelowna branch with more than 500 riders.

Another Okanagan resident has also turned her grief into something proactive. Mare McHale lost her husband, Jeremy McGoran, a year ago. She blogs and updates her YouTube channel regularly, talking about her struggles after her husband’s death and raising their son Thomas, 7, who has autism.

“Right after it happened, I worried that other people would copy and do the same thing,” she said. She documents her recovery, hard days included, in order for others to see the true nature of what goes on behind the scenes of her life and so others don’t glorify suicide.

McGoran, who worked in radio in Pentiction, was open about his mental illness, which McHale wanted to continue as part of his legacy.

“I still get messages, saying this is what Jer taught me. It just feels like I don’t have a choice,” she said. McHale also works in radio in Penticton.

In one video, she discusses, through tears, how she is coming to terms with the fact that it was his choice, something she wants to pass on to others.

She said people will ask her what the signs are for someone who is suicidal, or what she could have done differently.

“That day I had no indication. If you’ve lost someone it’s not your fault. That’s been a really difficult thing to come to terms with,” she said.

Although resources were widely available in terms of therapy and medical support, McHale said there’s a lack of caregiver support.

“I was surprised that there wasn’t a widow’s group or a grieving group… I had family and friends but in the community… I don’t know I think I just had to carry on,” she said.

Stigma is another factor that plays a role in the silence around mental health, not just around suicide, but also that she’s a widow, McHale said. “Being a widow makes people uncomfortable.”

But in the end, it’s not about saying the right or wrong thing to a person, it’s about showing that you’re there for them and that they’re in a safe space, she said.

The Okanagan has also seen a steady increase of suicide-related deaths, and Kelowna’s numbers have also been on the rise, from nine in 2006, to 29 in 2016, according to a report from the BC Coroners Service.

Jessica Samuels is the communications manager for the Canadian Mental Health Association in Kelowna and said stigma and isolation, lack of access to support services and substance use are some of the main reasons why people may consider suicide.

“This is a topic right now because we’ve had some high profile celebrities die by suicide, and we see 12 Canadians die by suicide every day… feeling that they can’t get help and they’ll be judged is one of the reasons.”

There is a “suicide contagion” effect, she said, where those experiencing challenges with their mental health or have suicidal thoughts may be more affected by the death of their loved ones or celebrities, but CMHA doesn’t have statistics on whether suicide rates are correlated with other family member’s deaths by suicide.

“When people are around those things, with stories of suicide, it can increase the low mood.”

The conversation around suicide came to the forefront of discussions last month, after the deaths of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

Around 1,000 individuals have accessed The Foundry, a youth mental health facility, since its opening in September. Many of those people are seeking help for the first time, Samuels said.

The Foundry, a youth mental health facility which opened in September, also offers support for the families of youth and CMHA has resources for older adults.

“We approach it in a holistic approach… if that means connecting their parents with services, we do that,” she said.

Samuels hopes more communities will offer a more holistic approach to mental health, as with The Foundry.

“As a community and in Canada, we’re recognizing these types of things needs to be in place.”

The Interior Health Authority also has the second highest suicide rates in B.C., the Coroners report said.

Sandra Robertson, manager for Mental Health and Substance Use Services at IH, said suicide is a “multi-faceted challenge.”

IH has a walk-in service where individuals can access counselling at its downtown location on Doyle Avenue, along with other resources and hotlines for those who need support. But why the IHA has the second highest suicide rates in the province remains a mystery.

“In health care, we talk about the social determinants of health, what are the determinants of health? Things that keep us healthy and they’re basic. Housing, relationships, finances, food, so when you start to look at where we’re struggling… we have a housing problem, there are food security issues, we’ve had lots of financial changes in the last eight years… so when you look at the social determinants of health, it’s not one thing, it’s how do they all come together where they create a storm where someone is so done that they want to end their life,” Robertson said.

In the past three years, IH has been working to improve accessibility and streamlining the referral process so individuals can speak with someone sooner, as well as improved its work with the Kelowna RCMP and access to mental health services, she said.

“We have tried to create an environment where we have people available more often and more easily accessible than we perhaps have in the past.”

However, IH does not have specific resources for loved ones of those who took their own lives.

Robertson said losing someone to suicide is different than losing a parent or spouse in other ways, as there’s stigma.

The Kelowna Hospice has created programs in the past for those who lost loved ones to the opioid epidemic, which she related to suicide in terms of stigma, but there are no specific groups for those who lost their loved ones to suicide.

· Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) to get help right away, any time of day or night. It’s a free call.

· Call your Local Crisis Line: call 1-888-353-2273 24 hours a day to connect to a B.C. crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. The crisis line operators have received advanced training in mental health issues and services by members of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.

· Kid’s Help Phone: for children and youth aged 5 to 20. Call 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a professional counsellor, 24 hours a day. It’s free, confidential, anonymous and available across Canada. They can also refer you to local services and resources. Kid’s Help Phone is available in English and French.

@carliberry_
carli.berry@kelownacapnews.com

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