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This Ontario Community Is Facing A Suicide Crisis And Young People Say They’re Not Being Heard

Students in Woodstock are planning a school walkout in response.

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Five young people have taken their own lives and dozens more have attempted to do the same in one small Ontario city.

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Woodstock, a community of 38,000 southwest of Toronto, is pooling its resources to tackle what the Canadian Mental Health Association is calling a youth suicide crisis.

In addition to the five deaths, Mike McMahon, CMHA's executive director for Oxford County, told BuzzFeed Canada there have been more than 40 calls about suicide attempts to different organizations from the local area.

"In our community, that's a large number," he said.

The big question, of course, is why. But it's also a difficult one to answer. McMahon said each case on its own is complex and each person had their own motives. Although there's no known relational link between the youth who died by suicide, McMahon said "we can be assured there's a link of information." If a young person hears of suicide in their community, they may start seeing that as a viable option for themselves.

If "the discussion is that suicide is relief from the pain, and there is no other mitigating or viable options presents, then we're in a real crisis in our community," he said.

"It's unbearable, the pain that they're in. A young person's brain is looking for immediate resolution — youth don't do long-term planning."

The community has now held two meetings to discuss the suicides and more resources have been shifted to help those in crisis. A response team has also been active since the first suicide earlier this year.

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"We are working hard to make sure that caregivers, loved ones, parents, and teachers are aware of what to do in the event that a young person they're connected with is experiencing suicidal thoughts," said McMahon.

The youth at the heart of the issue, however, don't all feel like they're being heard.

High school students in Woodstock have organized a walkout on Tuesday morning to demand greater access to mental health services as well as a voice in the crisis response.

"I'm really just looking to raise awareness of the fact that we need help, as students," MacKenzie Gall, one of the students organizing the walkout, told the Woodstock Sentinel-Review.

"I feel like they're more focused on adults rather than the teenagers' opinions."

McMahon said that while CMHA doesn't necessarily support kids skipping class, they'll be in attendance.

"We're making sure that the youth there will be supported in case they're feeling triggered or sad or in need of support."

Local teens have also been sharing their stories on YOUTH Suicide Prevention in Woodstock, a Facebook group started by Gail Evraire. With a son who has dealt with depression, the 39-year-old community health student knows how difficult it can be to access help.

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"I've noticed in all of this no one has once mentioned these youth," she told BuzzFeed Canada. "I wanted to give them a platform or a forum to talk about whatever they wanted to talk about."

She's seen posts about abuse, depression, anxiety, self-harm, and feelings of loneliness. But she's also seen other teens reach out to tell their peers they're not alone, that they're listening.

"As I struggle with depression I always felt like I should hide it because I felt like no one would understand. This group has taught me that [I] shouldn't hide my mental illness because I'm not the only one, and that people do understand," wrote one young woman.

Evraire said the group has also had four cases where there was reason to believe a commenter was thinking of ending their life. In all four cases police were called and the commenters in question were able to access support services.

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"I also think they know that this platform is being watched," said Evraire. The group is open to the public, so parents and officials in the community can see everything that's posted. "They want these people to know how difficult life has been for them."

When it comes to social media, McMahon said that some things said in private shouldn't stay that way.

'If your friend talks to you about suicide, I would offer that that is not a private conversation that you can offer your confidentially on," he said.

"You need to say, 'I'm your best friend and I love you and I can't keep this to myself.'"

Are you or someone you know in crisis?

Find a crisis centre here, or call:

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

LGBT Youth Line: 1-800-268-9688

Trans Lifeline: 1-877-330-6366

Lauren Strapagiel is Managing Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto, Canada.

Contact Lauren Strapagiel at lauren.strapagiel@buzzfeed.com.

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