Winnipeg teen who spoke out about depression, suicide says it helped her and others

A Winnipeg teen who went public about her battle with depression two years ago — including repeated attempts at suicide — now says her openness saved her life and the lives of others.

Lexie Howika was just 15 when she posted a video online encouraging others to stay strong

Two years after going public about her battles with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide, Lexie Howika tells CBC News the process saved her life and helped save the lives of others. (CBC)

A Winnipeg teen who went public about her battle with depression two years ago — including repeated attempts at suicide — now says the process saved her life and the lives of others.

At just 15, Lexie Howika was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and had tried kill herself three times, when she decided to post a video online encouraging others facing similar feelings to stay strong.

The St. Vital teen spoke to the CBC Manitoba's Information Radio after the video went viral, and now, two years later — as she prepares to graduate from high school — Howika says she's feeling much better and is glad she made the decision to speak out about what she was going through.

"After the interview … I would receive messages from girls and guys who would just ask me about what had happened and they would tell me about their struggles," she said. "I would just talk with them — I wasn't able to give them tons of advice because I was still struggling — but I think it helped them because they realized 'I'm not the only person in this world feeling like this.' "

Lexie Howika of Winnipeg created this video urging other teens, who are thinking of suicide, to seek help. (Courtesy Lexie Howika/Facebook) 3:26

Howika was sexually assaulted by two boys when she was 12. Her assailants were the same age as her.

But she told CBC two years ago she believes she suffered from depression before that, as well. In Grade 4, when she was 10, she started having "random thoughts" about killing herself, she said.

Learning to cope

While she still fights with thoughts of suicide now and then, therapy and the support of friends and family have helped her cope better, she said.

"There's the thought where I don't think I can do this anymore, but inside my head it's a conversation with myself, it's like 'No, you don't have a choice, you're doing this,' " she said. "I'm in my Grade 12 year, I have grad soon, I'm experiencing different things in life and I'm happy. I just kind of tell those thoughts to go away now."

Howika also pointed to a new project-based learning program she started last summer as a turning point in her recovery.

Propel, run by the Louis Riel School Division, features smaller class sizes and encourages students taking part to work on things that they're interested in, alongside their regular curriculum.

The program's format has improved her confidence, she said.

"I used to not want to fail and I think a lot of people are scared to try things because they're afraid to fail," she said. "Now I've learned that failure is a good thing, in all aspects, not just school.

"Feeling like you're having a failure of a day or feeling like you didn't succeed in something, that's OK because then you know what to change."

Howika said she wants to continue helping others by being there when they're ready to tell their stories — she wants to become a journalist.

"I want to write about people and I want to know their stories and how they live their life, because I think as a part of having depression, it's important to see other people's perspectives," she said.

'Building relationships'

Howika had kept her feelings — and the sexual assault — a secret for two years before finally telling her parents shortly before she made her video.

Her mother, Leona, said she is grateful for the ongoing support the family has received from Lexie's therapist at the Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre (MATC), her school community and her friends. 
Lexie Howika and her mother Leona spoke to CBC News two years after the teen posted an online video encouraging others dealing with mental health issues. (CBC)

But the family is still dealing with the effects of what Howika went through.

"Lexie is still building relationships with her siblings — some of them were angry with her, others didn't understand or had to run away from whatever was happening in our house," she said. "It really fractured our family in terms of parenting. I had to sit at home and babysit my 15-year-old because I was afraid she was going to do something.

"She's coping much better, there's been tons of improvement, but when she's having a rough time and she dips, I've got that same fear — I don't think that fear ever really leaves."

Howika said she copes with bad days by remembering that there's going to be good days too.

"I've learned to cope in a different way."

If you need help: Call the Manitoba Suicide Line at 1-877-435-7170, toll free 24 hours a day, or go to reasontolive.