Why a 17-year-old says she wanted 'the pain to go away'

People in Attawapiskat, a remote northern Ontario reserve, gathered to talk about the suicide crisis that's sparked an emergency call for more help — including one 17-year-old who spoke to CBC News about her own attempts to end her life and how she's now trying to help others.

Additional mental health workers being sent to remote northern Ontario community

People pass by the secondary school in Attawapiskat, Ont., a remote reserve near James Bay. Chief Bruce Shisheesh says he is hopeful a planned meeting with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett will be the beginning of real change for Attawapiskat. (CBC)

She stands outside a recreation centre in Attawapiskat, just 17 years old, head down, speaking quietly, sadly, but almost matter-of-factly about her own attempts to kill herself.

"I felt alone," she says. "I just wanted the pain to go away."

That pain, she says, comes from more than one place. She cites "family problems" and says "something happened to me when I was a kid, but I don't want to talk about it."

"I was carrying a lot of stuff in me."

Many say bullying, overcrowding, boredom and loneliness are all fuelling these feelings of despair on the Attawapiskat First Nation, a community of fewer than 2,000 people.

Bullying was a problem for her, not initiated by kids at school but by adults, who she says would talk about her and her friends behind her back.

"Adults are bullies too.… They like to name-call people."

The teen, whom CBC News has agreed not to identify, says bullying and suicide are discussed at school — but she wishes other issues that plague young people would be discussed as well, like anxiety and eating disorders, something she says she has suffered from. 

Isolation and overcrowding

On top of all of this is the isolation that she and many of her friends feel living in the remote James Bay area reserve.

She says she currently lives with her grandmother in a crowded home of 12 people — waiting, she says, for the power to be restored in her mother's house so her family can return. Her mother lives with her boyfriend and has been unable to pay for power. And her father, she says, won't pay child support.

Attawapiskat bonfire and march celebrate positives of life


5 years ago
Some 150 people of all ages took part in candlelight suicide awareness walk Tuesday night in northern Ontario community 1:29

She says she's friends with others who have also tried to end their lives, including those who were brought into the health centre on Monday night, detained by police over fears that they were planning a group suicide.

That followed a report of 11 suicide attempts in one day over the weekend and reports of over 100 suicide attempts and at least one death since September.

The town is currently in a state of emergency. Additional mental health workers have been sent in, and politicians are expected to start trickling in Wednesday. Meanwhile, the House of Commons was holding an emergency debate on the issue Tuesday night.

'A lot of people feel nobody cares for them'

The girl was one of dozens of people who came to the Reg Louttit Sportsplex community hall, where an all-day forum was held for residents to talk about the crisis and the other serious issues facing their town.

The forum was also an opportunity to just let people speak about their own issues, their troubled childhoods. One woman talked about her issues with her mother who "never told me she loves me."

"Spend time with your kids," she sobs. "Spend time with your kids."

People in Attawapiskat gathered for a forum on the mental health emergency on Tuesday. Later in the day, MPs in Ottawa held an emergency debate on the crisis that was expected to run late into the night. (CBC)

Carissa Koostachin, 14, was emotional as she talked about bullying, something she says was partially responsible for causing her cousin Sheridan Hookimaw to kill herself last year. 

"A lot of people feel nobody cares for them," she says. "I don't want to lose another one from suicide."

But she says she doesn't like to talk about why her cousin committed suicide, fearing that it could prompt others to follow her path.

"If you keep talking about suicide it's going to make the other youth want to do it again."

"It's not just this reserve. There's others reserves out there too. It's just Attawapiskat that is really out of control right now."

That's why the 17-year-old girl is trying to help other kids who might be thinking the same thoughts she struggled with. She recently took part in a long healing walk to help raise awareness about suicide and addiction.

"When I saw the community cheering it gave me hope," she says.

With cars following slowly behind, around 150 people of all ages took part in a candlelight suicide awareness walk Tuesday night around the community.

Attawapiskat march

CBC News

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Attawapiskat march 1:04

"This was to show that we care about them and that they don't have to do this to themselves," said Keisha Paulmartia, 19

"They shouldn't have to feel this way at such a young age."

She said the older generation was affected by residential schools and now have a hard time showing support for their children and grandchildren and telling them they love them. 

"It was hard for them because they never had that growing up," said Paulmartia. "And they didn't know how to show it. And I think that made the younger generation feel like they weren't cared about and they weren't loved."

A bonfire meant to celebrate the positives of life for youth is scheduled for Wednesday night.


Mark Gollom


Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from Nicole Brewster