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Courtenay mom uses ribbons to honour late son, shed light on mental illness

Judi Hills says we need to do more to end the stigma associated with mental illness

A Courtenay woman has initiated a ribbon campaign in memory of her son — who took his life at age 31 — and of the many others who struggle in silence.

Judi Hills reached out to neighbours in the Puntledge Park area, hoping they would tie a purple or teal ribbon onto a tree or fencepost as a gesture to bring awareness to mental health and suicide prevention.

“The support has been amazing and many are planning to do this,” said Hills, who hopes a sea of teal and purple will be created beyond her neighbourhood.

Her son, Sam, was a member of the Canadian Forces at the time of his death. A marriage separation and posting to a different city had left him feeling isolated, especially during COVID. She said he struggled with the demons of self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

Sam ended his life in the early morning of Aug. 19, 2021. The phrase, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ reverberates in Judi’s head because her son said these words to her just hours before his death.

“I knew he was struggling that night but I thought he was doing better by the end of our call,” she said. “He promised to call me in the morning. But that call never came. A different call awoke me that morning and it changed my life forever.”

Judi said Sam struggled all his life to fit in. He was kind and befriended those without friends, and went out of his way to make people laugh.

“He breathed his last breath alone, leaving a world that he didn’t think he mattered in,” Judi said. “But he did matter. To so many. He was loved. And he is missed. This is the last month of the year that my son was a part of. We need to end the stigma. I don’t want any other parent or family to have to feel what I am feeling now.”

She said more government money needs to be invested to help those who are struggling — and who need easier access to mental health services.

“We need to be kinder to one another,” she said. “The number of suicides just steadily climbs at an alarming rate. We need to do more.”

Lisa Klco, clinical director at Nomina Wellness, said there’s a growing demand for mental health services across the spectrum as public health systems have been decimated by COVID and other care needs.

“People are struggling, public health is trying to do its best, and it is frustrating for both sides,” she said. “We see a growing number of adults struggling with suicidal thoughts, attempts who report they just want to end the pain.”

Klco also notes an increased number of young women who struggle with ideation, suicide attempts or other self-harming behaviours. Oftentimes, families feel helpless — but she stresses that it is not the family’s fault when a loved one dies by suicide.

If someone is experiencing a mental health crisis, the Vancouver Island Crisis Line is available around-the-clock at 1-888-494-3888. People can also call 911, or go to the emergency department.

In Courtenay, those seeking help for adult mental health and substance use services can call 250-331-8524.

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