Suicide Prevention Day: After their son died, a dream was born

Deborah and David Cooper's son Eli took his own life in 2010 after a long struggle with mental illness. Now they're working to create a unique treatment facility for young adults living with mental illness.

Deborah and David Cooper lost their son to suicide, now they’re creating a mental health treatment centre

Deborah Cooper which her son Eli Cooper who took his own life in 2010 after a long struggle with mental illness. (Eli's Place)

Deborah and David Cooper are building a dream from a nightmare.

Their son Eli took his own life in 2010 after a long struggle with mental illness.

Now the Coopers are working to create a unique treatment facility for young adults living with mental illness.

"It's a big dream, but it's going to happen," Deborah Cooper said in an interview.

According to Statistics Canada data, an average of 10 people die by suicide every day in Canada. It is the second leading cause of death among people under the age of 29.

Monday September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day.

Of the approximately 4,000 suicides in Canada every year, more than 90 per cent of them involve mental illness.

Eli Cooper

Eli Cooper was a creative, straight-A student and loyal Toronto Blue Jays fan.

His childhood was happy.

"He had this amazing smile. He was just a great, great kid," Deborah Cooper said.

But things changed for her son in his final years of high school. He was skipping classes and falling behind.

Eli Cooper took his own life in 2010. His parents are creating a mental health treatment facility called Eli's Place. (Eli's Place)

When his parents tried to help, they didn't get the whole story.

"His shame and humiliation was so overwhelming for him," his mother said, "I think he was very troubled by that."

Eli Cooper was struggling with mental illness and eventually diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder.

His happy childhood became a painful early adulthood.

With his parent's help, he saw doctors, enrolled in treatment programs and tried "myriad" combinations of medication.

What his mother describes as a "12-year struggle" finally ended with suicide just before Cooper's 31st birthday.

David Cooper is planning a mental health treatment facility following his son's death from suicide. (CBC/Paul Smith)

"We stayed hopeful, we truly did, but at some point Eli felt all alone, very ashamed, and in too much pain," his mother said.

"He tried to move through this the best way he could," David Cooper said of his son.  

"He was very brave." 

A 'gap' in mental health treatment

While seeking treatment for their son, the Coopers said they noticed a "gap" in the healthcare system for people around Eli's age.

He was 30 at the time of his suicide and struggled with serious mental illness through his 20s.

Karen Letofsky, president of the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention agrees that the age cohort is a "vulnerable population."

"Older teens and young adults are caught in a trap where children-based services are not available to them and they don't feel adult-based services meet their needs," Letofsky said in an interview.

Eli's Place

Now, the Coopers are working to ease the pain of others suffering as their son did.

The couple has been tirelessly putting together a plan to create a unique, long-term treatment facility for young adults (ages 19-35) suffering with mental illnesses.

Eli's Place would house up to 40 people for six-month residencies in a rural setting.

A rendering of Eli's Place, the mental health treatment facility Deborah and David Cooper are planning. (Eli's Place)

Patients would receive mental health treatment while working at the centre's organic farm.

Their stay would be followed by a 12-month transition period in which they would receive housing and employment support.

The Coopers have toured similar centres in the United States and around the world.

"We know from research being done in the U.S. that it significantly decreases suicide rates, that it significantly decreases re-hospitalizations, and people have much brighter, better outlooks after treatment," Deborah Cooper said.

The centre's opening is planned for 2020.

About the Author

Trevor Dunn

Trevor Dunn is an award-winning journalist with CBC Toronto. Since 2008 he's covered a variety of topics, ranging from local and national politics to technology on the South American countryside. Trevor is interested in uncovering news: real estate, crime, corruption, art, sports. Reach out to him. Se habla español. trevor.dunn@cbc.ca