Calgary·Special Report

Suicide rates for youth under 18 jump in Alberta

Preliminary results of a report obtained by CBC News say suicide rates for Alberta youth under the age of 18 more than doubled last year.

Part 3 of CBC's Breakdown series looks at how Red Deer is dealing with a cluster of high school suicides

Maryanne Nonay lost her 17-year-old son almost a year ago. He was just one of six boys who committed suicide in Red Deer since May. 3:59

Preliminary results of a report obtained by CBC News say suicide rates for Alberta youth under the age of 18 more than doubled last year.

There were 33 suicides in 2012, up from 14 in 2011. One Alberta city that has been particularly hard hit by these tragedies is Red Deer.

Local resident Maryanne Nonay lost her 17-year-old son almost a year ago. She says the pain never goes away.

Brett Watts had Asperger syndrome and his mother says he was picked on by other kids.

Brett Watts, who was teased at school for having Aspergers, committed suicide almost a year ago. (CBC)

"A lot of the times I still feel like Brett's on vacation," she said. "The brain doesn't let you compute it fully all the time."

Nonay said she had no idea how much her son was struggling.

He is one of six high school boys in the Red Deer area who have committed suicide since last May.

The provincial government says Alberta's suicide rates are a huge concern. Health Minister Fred Horne says mental health has to be a part of the mainstream health system.

"I think it's a reminder, once again, that mental health is something we need to be addressing, we need to talk about it openly and we need find ways to get to people sooner," he said.

Red Deer teenagers look to raise awareness

The deaths prompted three teenaged girls — Jordan Bradley, Stacey Appleby and Sasha Ward — to start a suicide awareness Facebook page. A month later it has almost 8,000 members.

"I think the second day after opening I was up until 3 o'clock in the morning trying to read them all," said Ward.

She says people are finally talking about suicide and says young people are posting some very personal stories.

"It wasn't necessarily cries for help," said Ward. "It was, 'This is what I've overcome and you can too.' And to us it was like, whoa, people we knew and people we'd been close to."

Ward says they have also heard from parents who were afraid to talk to their kids about suicide before reading the posts.

Three teenagers from Red Deer started a suicide awareness Facebook page after the city saw six suicide deaths in 10 months. (CBC)

The girls are also selling wristbands and T-shirts that say "don't you dare give up" to raise money for a suicide awareness campaign.

The Red Deer Public School District is also aware of the problems and is working on a co-ordinated response.

"I would very much like to see mental health specialists, who could be part of our teams in our schools as our young people get into our middle schools and high schools, who can provide that kind of support to students alongside our guidance counsellors and our family school wellness workers," said Piet Langstraat, the superintendent of schools for Red Deer Public School District.

The challenge is funding. Langstraat says the school division is not expecting more money to help its students cope with mental health issues, so he says everyone has to think of ways to work smarter together.