After daughter's suicide, family works to fill gap in youth mental health services

Each year, an average of 294 teenagers commit suicide in Canada. For Chris Coulter, that is more than a statistic.

The Maddie Project works to create better facilities for teens with mental health issues

Madeline German Coulter died on April 11, 2015. But her legacy lives on in The Maddie Project. (The Maddie Project/

Each year, an average of 294 teenagers commit suicide in Canada. For Chris Coulter, that is more than a statistic. His daughter Madeline ended her life April 11, 2015. She was 14-years-old. 

Madeline suffered from depression. She was diagnosed in December of 2014. Because she was depressed, she saw herself as a burden to family and friends.

"We all reassured her that we loved her," said her father. "She was frustrated that she couldn't shake the sadness."

We heard from a 13-year-old who just lost his friend to suicide. Then Matt Galloway spoke with Chris Coulter, who founded The Maddie Project after his young daughter took her life. 10:44

Gap in youth mental health services

Madeline spent a lot of time at North York General Hospital at the youth mental health unit. Teenagers with mental health issues can be admitted to care centres like this when they are in crisis.

Madeline's family were tremendously appreciative of the care she received.

"[North York General] were incredibly compassionate and accommodating to our situation because there was no intermediate step between the hospital and home," said Coulter.

The family had nowhere to go for long-term treatment of Madeline's depression. There were drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, and waiting lists for other care centres, but no mental health centres that she could immediately go to "stabilize," he said, after a crisis.

"In the end we thought she was getting better," he said. "Intermediary agencies would assess week-to-week and see how she was doing, to ask if she was in crisis."

She was making progress, but she would struggle, the family said.

"We were trying hard to get her the care she needed, to offer her a normal life," he said. "There is so much guilt. I often ask what could I have done differently."

The Maddie Project

For Madeline's parents, Coulter and her mother, Nicole German, part of coping is to work toward a world where children Madeline's age don't feel the need to end their lives.
Madeline saw herself as a burden to the family during her depression, said her father. She died at age 14. (The Maddie Project/

"We want to try as hard as we can to make sure other families don't go through this," Coulter said.

So the family turned their efforts toward The Maddie Project, an initiative established in conjunction with North York General Hospital to help teens suffering mental illness.

The youth mental health facility will be housed in a renovated, state-of-the-art facility called Phillips House, a building on the hospital grounds. The North York General Hospital raised $7-million to turn it into a youth mental health out-patient facility.

In less than a year, The Maddie Project and North York General raised amounts approaching $600,000 in donations. 

That money will go toward making the mental health environment at the hospital more "liveable," including building a garden, Maddie's Healing Garden, which would surround the Phillips House.

The role of social media

Suicides and attempted suicides among children between the ages of 10 and 14 years old are on the rise, according to statistics from a five year period ending in 2012. In the past 30 years, teen suicides and attempted suicides have increased three-fold.

Coulter believes social media plays a larger role in teen mental health. That is certainly an aspect of Madeline's life he still thinks about.

Social media could contribute to her happiness, he said, but it also could affect her negatively.

"It could send her spiraling. How many 'likes' she got on social media could change her mood so drastically," he said.

Coulter said that everything teens post on social media can be scrutinized. And in those communications, there is no emotional context — you're never sure of the emotion wrapped around a text, he said.

He now limits the time spent on the phone and tablet by his two other children — two boys, 10 and 14.

Similar technology has helped him as a grieving parent, though. Coulter keeps a blog to express how he's feeling.

"A very therapeutic thing for me is writing. It's amazing how many people reach out to me personally. They tell me they've struggled and share their stories ... I don't feel alone," he said.

But still, as a grieving parent, Coulter finds life difficult after the loss of his young daughter. "I have my days and moments where I struggle," he said.