Clarenville grieving after suicide of young music teacher, mental health advocate

Victoria Best was a music teacher, a volunteer and a mental health advocate. Tragically, her own mental illness got the best of her Monday.

Victoria Best wrote about her struggles with mental health and how difficult the holiday season could be

Victoria Best was a beloved music teacher, SPCA volunteer and mental health advocate. She took her life on Monday. (Facebook)

A Facebook post written by a young woman from Clarenville about how to support those who might be struggling with their mental health, and how to survive if you're the one having trouble, is all the more poignant with the news that its author wasn't able to make it through.

The suicide of Victoria Best — a music instructor, volunteer and mental health advocate — has left her hometown reeling, and her family and friends determined to carry on her fight for better mental health care and more compassion for those who are struggling.

Richard Churchill was a close friend of Victoria Best. He will be giving the eulogy at her funeral on Saturday, Dec. 16. (CBC)

Best's close friend Richard Churchill said hearing the news of her death felt "like a bag of bricks dropped down into my stomach." 

"The sad reality is people who are fighting mental illness, fighting that battle each day — this is always a very real scenario that could happen."

Best was just 27 years old when she died.

'Absolutely heart-wrenching news'

Last November, Best purchased her first home. In a Facebook post, she called it the "love of [her] life."

She was a beloved, passionate musician and music teacher and had been operating a music studio, where she taught dozens and dozens of kids in the Clarenville area, out of her grandparents's basement.

This September, she officially opened up Belle Music Studio's new location in the freshly renovated basement of her house.

In a Facebook post, Victoria Best wrote that since her budget didn't allow for a new piano, she decided to paint her old one to match the rest of her music studio. (Facebook)

Greeting students in Belle's bright rooms was a piano she had painted a bright, clear blue.

"She was called to teach music," said Churchill. "She was very, very talented at that. She brought children who perhaps didn't realize that they were musical and she made them find that musical soul that they had inside them."

"This has been absolutely heart-wrenching news for those children."

Openness about mental illness

Best was always very candid and upfront with Churchill and his wife about her mental illness, he said.

"In the last couple of years, she'd become more open as the stigma with mental health has continued to be broken down," he said.

Best herself played a part in breaking down that stigma. This summer, she was recognized with a 150 Faces of Clarenville award for her volunteer work with the SPCA, and for her advocacy and support work for mental health.

Victoria Best, left, poses with her grandfather and former mayor of Clarenville, Fred Best, after receiving a 150 Faces of Clarenville award. (Facebook)

She had also started using Facebook to get the word out.

'We need more from our healthcare system'

Though most of her posts are positive, celebrating the accomplishments of her dozens and dozens of music students; or the wins of her favourite football team, Best took to the social media platform Oct. 19 to express her frustration with care she received at the G.B. Cross Hospital in Clarenville during a mental health crisis.

I could have been another unnecessary victim last night.- Victoria Best

"I was not safe to drive, I was not safe to be released alone, and I had little memory of the previous seven hours in which I had driven to and from St. John's," she wrote in a post dated Oct. 19.

Best wrote she was sent home just two hours later, with an appointment for the next day.

Victoria Best had just purchased a home in Shoal Harbour. She moved her music studio, Belle Music Studio, into its basement. (Facebook)

"I left feeling much more hopeless than I entered," she wrote. "By finally seeking help, I actually put myself in a more dangerous situation."

"I could have been another unnecessary victim last night ... we need more from our healthcare system."

'More needs to be done'

Two days later, she wrote that she had checked into St. Clare's hospital in St. John's, and that they took care of her. In that post, she asked her friends to keep talking and sharing stories about mental health, and to keep pushing for change.

"We’ve made it to the point in which most people are able to talk about their mental health issues without fear of judgement in both social and workplace environments. Now we need more from our health-care system," Victoria Best wrote in a Facebook post. (Facebook)

Louise Best, Victoria's grandmother, said her granddaughter was used to driving to St. John's for help with her mental illness: there aren't many specialists in Clarenville or the surrounding area to choose from, so Victoria drove all the way to St. John's for appointments.

"We deserve more than that," said Louise Best.

She echoes her granddaughter's feelings that as society has become more comfortable talking about mental health, the health-care system still has catching up to do.

"An awful lot more needs to be done," she said.

Care and compassion around Christmas

For Best, Christmas wasn't always merry and bright. And on Dec. 8, she took to Facebook to write about it.

"I've never known struggle like waking up unsure if my brain will allow me to accomplish what I want to do every single day," she wrote.

"Our illnesses are like our own personal puppet master — we can pull against the strings to fight, but it ultimately has control. It always seems at Christmastime that puppet master gets even more controlling."

She said the rush and the financial crush of the holidays could trigger some of her worst feelings — sadness, loneliness, helplessness — and that, for people with mental illnesses, it was often the "most difficult and dangerous time of the year."

"I think if we all made a pledge to reach out to at least one person who struggles with the Christmas season, we could really make a difference," she wrote.

She urged those fighting the darkness to be gentle with themselves and to try to find one positive thing each day to hold on to.

Victoria Best loved Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. She said she watched Super Bowl highlights each night during the holiday season so she fell asleep with a happy memory. (Facebook)

Tragically, her illness got the best of her and three days later she was dead.

"I know that as hard as this is, that bit of peace that she has found, I think she always knew that it wasn't for lack of love surrounding her," said Richard Churchill.

He encourages people to follow her example and take care of those around them during Christmas, knowing that sometimes people are in far more pain that we realize.

"Reach out to those people. Listen to them. Give them some empathy and understanding … People need us."

If you are in distress or considering suicide, there are places to turn for support, including your doctor or Newfoundland and Labrador's Mental Health Crisis Centre at (709) 737-4668. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention also has information about where to find help.

With files from Anthony Germain