Nasima Nastoh's son Hamed took his own life when he was just 14 years old, by jumping off the Patullo Bridge in 2000.

The Surrey woman and her husband had little idea of what their son was struggling with until they read the letter he'd left behind, which described how he had been relentlessly bullied by his classmates in his high school, often being called homophobic slurs.

Nastoh shared her family's story and read out her son's five-page letter at a forum on March 19 discussing mental health and addiction in the Canadian Muslim community.

'A big issue'

"Hamed ended his life because he felt helpless and hopeless," said Nastoh, speaking before the event to host Robyn Burns on All Points West.

"This symposium is about raising awareness about mental illness and depression, especially in the Muslim community, because they don't acknowledge that this is a big issue. Especially the families, because youth are struggling between two cultures."

The event, held at Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus, was organized by the HOPE Project, which is a program run by the Muslim Food Bank and Community Services Society in Surrey.

The forum, which is now in its second year, saw a turnout of around 200 people.

Sabrina Khan, co-ordinator for the HOPE Project, said research shows that "localized community-based initiatives" are more effective than broad, national efforts when it comes to tackling mental health and addiction issues.

"What we're really trying to do is foster resilience within the community by creating awareness and addressing those challenges in a manner that's culturally relevant."

A problem in many communities

Khan said some possible solutions would be for those working with people suffering from mental health and addiction issues to understand their backgrounds — such as the culture they come from, the language they speak.

However Khan said the problem is one that faces society as a whole.

"In general as a society, as Canadian society, we don't understand mental illness," she said.

"As a society we don't see that it's something that is like a physical illness, it just manifests mentally."

With files from CBC's All Points West


To hear the full story listen to the audio labelled: Forum focuses on mental health and addiction in the Muslim community