Now or Never

After losing his parents, this 18-year-old is raising the alarm about mental health

When Noah Irvine was five, his mother ended her life. Ten years later, his father died of an accidental drug overdose. So Irvine is telling politicians: "Don't let another child end up in the situation that I ended up in."
Noah Irvine phoning MPs across Canada (Dawn Matheson)

"Don't let another child end up in the situation that I ended up in."

Those are strong words for a young man. It's probably because 18-year-old Noah Irvine has suffered more loss than most teenagers.

When he was five, his mother ended her life. Ten years later, when Irvine was 15, his father died of an accidental drug overdose. At the root of their deaths was mental illness.

Last year, when Irvine was in Grade 10, he wrote a letter about mental health for a class assignment. His teacher was so impressed she insisted he do something with his letter.

"I did feel that my parents were let down by the system that supposedly works. But I haven't seen that first-hand," he said. "I wanted to make clear to the government of Ontario but also the government of Canada that it hasn't worked and the system has failed."

So Irvine and his grandfather, Ross Irvine, looked up all 338 addresses for MPs across Canada. Noah printed personalized letters, signed each one, addressed the envelopes and mailed them out in February, 2017.

Noah Irvine mailing 338 letters to MPs across Canada in February, 2017 (Ross Irvine)

By June of 2017 he had only received 40 replies.

Irvine was so disheartened at the lack of response to his letters, he sent a press release to the media. Some of his points included:

  • Canada is the only G7 country that does not have a national suicide prevention strategy.
  • The mental health disease burden in Ontario is 1.5 times higher than that of cancer and heart disease combined.
  • Canada loses nearly 4,000 people to this epidemic every year.

Last August, he started calling the MPs, from B.C. to Newfoundland, and he continues to make phone calls — to ministers, mayors and more. Irvine considers it a lot of fun.

Noah Irvine shares a laugh with his grandfather Ross Irvine. (Dawn Matheson)

"At the end of the day, I'm a normal kid who likes to do what I'm doing. It's not scary to do this."

People sometimes mistake Irvine for being older than his years. 

"They often feel that I'm 40 years old and then when I tell them to Google me, they're kind of baffled that some of the first images of me are in a ball cap," he explained. 

Noah Irvine reads one of the responses he's received from an MP. (Dawn Matheson)

Each response that Irvine receives encourages him to continue.

"To write each provincial legislature is a goal of mine so that nobody can say 'I didn't write you' and so I can say I tried everybody and it's up to them now," he said.

He's even spoken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. According to his grandpa, that call didn't phase Noah one bit.

"The Prime Minister went on for two minutes and Noah just said 'excuse me Mr. Prime Minister'," laughed his grandpa. " I have two things I want to talk about."

"He got through his two items and said 'I know you're a busy guy'," he continued. "'I've said what I'd like to say and I would like to thank you for the call'."

"And that was it. My mouth dropped open!" Noah's grandpa exclaimed.

Despite all he is doing, Noah Irvine insists he's still a normal kid.

"I still hang out with my buddies. I watch hockey. I watch football," he said.  "And I work part-time. This doesn't consume every facet of my life."

According to his grandpa, Noah is considering a career in political sciences.

"Before Noah started this whole campaign" he explained, "he had no interest in going on to college or university. He's now very excited about attending." 

Noah Irvine has advice for people who are faced with mental health issues. 

"I would encourage them to keep going, to not give up," he said. "And I would encourage them to push for change."

"When you have people across the country asking for change in their provinces and in their communities," he continued, "that's when we as a country work together and actually stop this issue in its tracks."

"There's no excuse why you should be on a waiting list for 18 months," he said. "If I went to a hospital with a broken leg and they said: 'wait 18 months,' just to see a doctor — we wouldn't stand for it."

"Yet with mental health we seem to not be aware that it is also a pressing issue."

Noah Irvine is just getting started.

"I will stop when I feel that no other kid in Canada will go through the same sadness that I've gone through," he said. "It doesn't have to happen."

To learn more about Noah's campaign, go to Step Up and Do Better