Hundreds of students from four high schools in Woodstock, walked out of class in the midst of a youth suicide crisis in Oxford County.
Since 2016, five students have died by suicide and the Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association- Oxford County Branch (CMHA Oxford), Mike McMahon, says another forty attempts have been made.
The teenagers congregated their walkout at Museum Square in Woodstock, Ontario, where they were met by elementary students, parents, city counsellors, mental health organizations, and the cities mayor Trevor Birch.
Hundreds of students wearing purple shirts with a semicolon symbol were seen throughout the event.
The punctuation mark represents the choice to continue living, as semicolons prolong sentences, and purple is the colour of mental health.
“Its a huge problem, the suicide crisis in Oxford County and Woodstock, and it means a lot because I know a lot of people who are going through a lot of things, I have in the past, it needs to stop.” she said.
Through the walkout students hoped to raise awareness about the severity of mental health, and what they believe are insufficient resources, available to youth affected by mental health in their community.
One of the organizers of the event and W.C.I student, Tai Hope, was a key speaker at the event and says the event took about five days to organize, through a group on Facebook.
“I’m hoping that through this event, people realize that there is help, things do get better, they got better for me, and the school board realizes that mental health needs to be apart of the curriculum.” he said.
Although no one from the school board was in attendance at the walkout, the Thames Valley District School Board (TVDSB), is holding a meeting on June 22, 2016 to discuss how they will respond to the crisis.
Many students and concerned parents held signs with images of teens from the community who have died by suicide, as well as, ones with positive messages, high above their heads, while smiling, and embracing those around them.
Chalk was laid out, which many used to write heartfelt messages on the interlock of the Museum Square, whilst Katy Perry’s, Firework, blasted over speakers.
Rob Bailey, wrote his message in chalk, with tears streaming down his cheek, “We miss you Mandy.”
Mandy, is Bailey’s daughter who is one of the five students who have died by suicide since 2016, and thats who he was at the walkout representing.
“She’s not here to speak, I know she would be all for this, I’m so proud of the kids here that have made their voices heard, and are advocating to get the help that they need, I just hope that, that help comes quickly for them, and that help is here.” he said.
The CMHA-Oxford County Branch, was there with a tent, full of mental health counsellors, to assist anyone who might have been “triggered” by the event, and inform the youth of the mental health services that are available to them, in Oxford County.
“One crisis number that serves the county, where people can reach the Canadian Mental Health Association, Woodstock Hospital, which offers crisis and long-term supports, and their children’s mental health provider, each organization has twenty-four hour drop in emergency services.” Executive Director, Mike McMahon said.
According to McMahon, the only circumstance Oxford County is not equipped to handle is a situation where a youth needs hospitalization due to an emergency or an attempt of suicide, then they will be sent to their regional centre in London.
Everyone in attendance at the walkout wanted to see action now, not weeks or months from now, and Woodstock, Councillor Shaun Shapton, says that message has been heard loud and clear.
“The city has reached out to the province, we’re in crisis, we need help, the bottom line is we’re still loosing kids, we aren’t doing enough, in my opinion each youth suicide is a community failure, we can do better, and these kids deserve it.” he said.