Sudbury·Audio

Lessons from Jack: erasing the stigma about mental health

Ward’s loss motivated her to help bring Jack Talks — a program that enlists young leaders in breaking down the barriers communities face when discussing mental health issues — to Sudbury.

Sudbury event hopes to bring an honest, open discussion about mental health to teens and parents

Jennifer Ward and Todd Brown are both teachers in Sudbury who feel it is important students talk openly about mental health issues. (Roger Corriveau CBC)

Jennifer Ward's brother Brad committed suicide in his third year at Western University.

Brad wasn't showing any signs of suffering. He was a Dean's list, honours student in the biochemistry program who was recently accepted into medical school. Jennifer even spoke to her brother the day before he died.  

"We had no idea, he was hiding it very well," Ward said.

But Jennifer said if she— or anybody— recognized the signs, they may have been able to offer support.

"The [only indication was] he was gone for a week...and you don't miss a week from that type of program." Ward says the family were not notified.

"Had there been more awareness," Ward said, "more people getting out there and educating, my brother would still be here."

Ward's loss motivated her to help bring Jack Talks —  a program that enlists young leaders in breaking down the barriers communities face when discussing mental health issues — to Sudbury.

The organization was founded by Eric Windeler and Sandra Hanington after their son Jack died in 2010.

Jack Talk's goal is to bring young leaders to schools to talk about mental health.
Eric Windeler lost his son, Jack to suicide. He has devoted his time since 2010 to raising awareness of mental health issues through Jack.org. (www.jack.org)

Erasing the stigma around mental health

Sudbury elementary school teacher Todd Brown taught Jack's sister Julia in southern Ontario, and said they boy's death forced him to acknowledge suicide in a different way.

"In the span of about eight years, there were three suicides in the close-knit community school." Brown said.

"I couldn't' go to Jack's funeral," Brown said. "but spoke with the family. I spoke with Eric."

While talking to Jack's father, Brown shared his own experience with suicide within the family, a topic he hadn't discussed in thirty years.

"When I was 18, my father tried to take his own life, and I didn't tell anyone," Brown said.

"I had a conversation with one teacher who knew what's up. It was a big thing," Brown said. "It was a week before a major musical I was in. I was a little bit lost."

Brown confessed to Jack's parents that he didn't reveal much at the time of his father's attempt. Suicide simply wasn't something you openly talked about. Eric's reply was "Todd, that is the stigma we're trying to erase," Brown said. 

An open-door policy around mental health

Brown now doesn't shy away from discussing suicide openly with students and other staff at his school. He says he's fortunate to work in an environment with an open-door policy when it comes to mental health.

"If you have something wrong with you physically you go to the doctor and you talk about it," Brown said. "The same thing should be happening when you have mental health issues."

Ward, who is an educational assistant at Confederation Secondary School, says the loss she feels after her brother's death means she won't let warning signs pass by without acknowledging them.

"What happened to [Brad] has really given me that awareness to even see it in my own students here at work," Ward said.

"When someone is crying in the hallway, I don't walk past them. I stop, I ask, I have no problem asking that question, how are you feeling, what is going on, what can we do to help you and they know that," she said.

The Jack.org talk will be held Tuesday at Confederation Secondary School at 7:00 p.m. It is free abd open to parents/guardians and students 14 and over. 

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