More than 4,000 Canadians commit suicide every year and this has become the leading cause of death for teens aged 15 to 24, according to The Canadian Mental Health Association.
“And you never read about it and you never hear about it. Suicide is the ultimate form of despair and hopelessness,” said Peter Youngren, the executive director the 4Life Foundation.
“That is a brutal fact.”
The 4Life Foundation is a Canadian charity that provides opportunities for at-risk youths to have a better life through sport, education, music and dance. Its latest initiative surrounds bullying and how students as young as four can stop it in its tracks. Youngren, who ran for city councillor of Ward 34 (Don Valley East) in 2010, along with 10-year NHL veteran defenseman Jamie Allison, spoke to junior kindergarten to Grade 12 students at Holy Redeemer Catholic School in North York Monday, Jan. 14 about bullying and the effects it can have on people, including the last resort of suicide.
‘There is this wicked subtle underbelly that’s goi
“There is this wicked subtle underbelly that’s going on with bullying,” said Youngren. “And the stories are heartbreaking.”
There have been at least five high-profile suicide cases in the past year linked to bullying, the most talked about being 15-year-old Vancouver teen Amanda Todd, who made a YouTube video of her turmoil on cue cards before taking her life last October.
So far, Youngren has been to more than 40 schools in the GTA conducting his anti-bullying presentations to all ages; he works with local police officers, NHL players like Allison as well as CFL players.
“We always work with someone with authority,” said Youngren. “I think it’s better to see someone with authority or who has instant respect be vulnerable.”
That’s where Allison comes in. Presented as a “tough guy” on the ice after going mano-a-mano with the likes of Tie Domi, Allison, who is now retired from the game, admitted to the crowd that he’s never gotten into a fight off the ice: “It’s not worth it.”
He also shared a few bullying stories of his own. He recalls having to wear his older brother’s hand-me-downs when he was a child because his parents, although they worked hard and did what they could, couldn’t afford new clothes for him. So he was teased – relentlessly.
“But I didn’t let that define me,” said Allison. “Or who I was going to be.”
Allison went on to say by the time he got to high school in Windsor he was drafted to play for the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL and admitted to hanging out with the “cool kids” in school who would tease one boy, Robbie, who at lunch alone every day.
“I’ve always hated bullies and I’d always stand up for the underdog,” said Allison.
So he made the bold decision to tell his friends he didn’t like what they were doing and went to sit with Robbie that day and every day after that.
“By the end of the school year Robbie had more friends than I did,” said Allison. “It was a poignant moment in my life that really stuck with me.”
The older the students in the audience, the more intense the subject matter: from the basics of telling kindergarteners that making fun of someone because they are from another country or have a difficult name to pronounce is not OK, to getting to the nitty-gritty of sexting and relationship bullying with Grade 12 students.
One of the main messages Youngren said he wanted to get across to students is to get them to open up about being bullied.
“Most of these kids don’t talk,” said Youngren “They suffer in silence.”
According to Youngren, speaking up is just one of “a thousand little things” that can help reduce bullying in schools.
“I don’t think there’s any one thing that can be pinpointed as a fix,” said Youngren. “If there was I would do it.”