Andy Jones and Mary-Lynn Bernard continue conversation about mental illness

Here and Now's Debbie Cooper sat with Newfoundland and Labrador performers Andy Jones and Mary-Lynn Bernard to discuss their son's long battle with mental illness and his subsequent suicide in February.
Debbie Cooper speaks with Andy Jones and Mary-Lynn Bernard about the death of their son Louis and the need for a conversation about mental health issues 13:41

Here and Now's Debbie Cooper sat down with Newfoundland and Labrador performers Andy Jones and Mary-Lynn Bernard to discuss their son's long battle with mental illness and his subsequent suicide in February. 

Louis Bernard, 28, took his own life in February after struggling for more than half of his adult life with a severe mental illness.

"We're quite amazed that it hadn't been reported that way before, in this town anyway, according to the funeral director and the minister at the church," said Bernard.

The first line of the obituary read: "Passed away by his own hand after a lengthy and brave battle with mental illness, Louis Elphage Wynn Jones Bernard, age 28 years." 

Bernard said both the funeral director and the minister thanked her and Jones profusely.

"They said it needed to be said. We've had many, many people thank us, just for acknowledging it. Suicide is alive and well and it's not being talked about."
Louis Bernard was 28 when he took his own life. (Submitted photo )

Removing the taboo 

Jones said they don't want pity — they want people to change the conversation — and draw attention to mental health issues and the topic of suicide.  

"We so want something good to come out of this sad event in our lives, but we really would like to shine the light on mental illness, and specifically, the amount that those with mental illness suffer," said Jones. 

Mary-Lynn Bernard said she and Jones never got a 100 per cent diagnosis about Louis.

"He had psychotic episodes over the years ... and bi-polar was mentioned."

When Louis was in his mid-teens, doctors told Bernard and Jones their son had Pure O, a severe form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The disorder is characterized by intrusive thoughts.

"That's where you have inappropriate sexual thoughts, inappropriate thoughts about violence, ridiculous thoughts that don't mean anything. Terrible, terrible worries about the whole world and about people you see on the street, and your family that are so overwhelming. And that's where Louis was, in a highly-concentrated form for the last three years, and in some form for the last 13 years," said Jones. 

I'm bitter that he died alone and in pain, and we couldn't be there with him- Mary-Lynn Bernard

"Louis really, really suffered. I could tell about 10 years ago that he seemed to be really having a real hard time .. and we kept hoping that something would change. But the last three years he's really been suffering and could not do almost anything."

Bernard and Jones said as a young teen, Louis began getting into trouble and didn't want to attend school. They hoped he would eventually mature and grow out of teen behaviours. 

"We had some wonderful people, like guidance counsellors. Some of the first people [we saw] were the youth counselling people and services, and we met some fabulous people there, [who were] very helpful, as well as many of the psychologists we were referred to. But unfortunately, Louis was non-compliant. We ended up spending more time in seeing psychologists than Louis did. We would sit there and he would often run away," Jones said.

"We were thinking [what he was going through] was teenage behaviour and he would grow out of it. But he didn't grow out of it – he grew into it. He grew into his mental illness, and it got worse," added Bernard.

Jones said despite a number of strong support groups, they did encounter a lack of compassion from some physicians during their journey with Louis.  

"And I hate to say it, but certain doctors would say, "What's wrong with you? Get up, get a job and get going." 

"I wish that every psychiatrist in the world had a line that they learned off in medical school, and the line went something like, "I'm really sorry you're suffering so much, and I'm going to do my best to help you. But we don't know everything that's wrong with you, but we're going to do our best." Just some little moment of compassion, " Jones said. 

Respecting the decision

Though Jones and Bernard said they do not condone suicide, they do respect their son's decision to end his life.

"The truth of the matter is that he had a terminal illness and it got him in the end. He died alone and in pain, and we couldn't be there with him," said Bernard.

Jones said he and his wife felt helpless.

"It's a terrible thing, but I really respect his decision. No one should commit suicide in this whole world, it's a terrible thing. You'd have to have been with him, and I know this is not just a Louis story. We were so helpless, and that's why all we can say is that we are all together in this."