Suicides in Woodstock: What is life?


What are the root causes of the series of teenage suicide cases in Woodstock and the spike in the number of telephone calls to crisis centres in that small Ontario town?

How do we explain five suicides among youth of high school age, between late February and early June this year? Is it the result of the copycat phenomenon that experts call contagion suicides?

Most important, what do we do about it?

Finally, is there a broader society-wide issue or a broader set of issues of which Canada needs to take serous notice of and on which broader preventive and corrective action needs to be taken?

In the context of that broader perspective, it is disappointing that most of the media coverage did not attempt to delve into these deeper aspects of the tragic developments in Woodstock.

One wonders whether these developments are of recent vintage or whether there has there been a historic pattern.

Such developments are already well known as typical of university and community college students whose pressures and challenges are attributable in the main to their peculiar circumstances as a group.

Similarly, it is widely known that indigenous youth, especially those living on reserves or in isolated communities, regularly experience suicidal and mental health crises as a direct result of factors which have been extensively identified and studied.

The burning question is whether there are peculiar circumstances in Woodstock. What is it that they fear, do not understand or see as part of a hopeless situation which they cannot overcome? Or rather is it that they feel a generalized sense of emptiness? Or is it a combination of both?

What is peculiar about the social, cultural, educational and entertainment environment in Woodstock? Is there a significant lack of avenues and facilities for hobbies, sports and the arts?

Has there been a sudden rise in unemployment, a staggering rise in youth unemployment or an increasingly stagnant economy?

Do the youth in Woodstock find their educational system deficient? Is there too much schooling but no meaningful education? Is there any acquisition of skills relevant to the current job market?

So far, there have been few answers to all those diagnostic queries.  Here are the only remedial requests which the media has mentioned so far as coming from the students themselves:

  • Easier access to mental health services, especially for those increasing numbers of high school students who are experiencing suicidal thoughts;
  • A youth centre and
  • The inclusion of mental health classes in the school curriculum.

Those three requests tell us a lot. They do not provide answers to all the numerous questions we have raised. But at least they guide us in our search for concrete and relevant solutions for the challenges we are seeing in Woodstock, a community of approximately 38,000 inhabitants of whom 9,000 are 19 years old or younger.

As we set about to address the urgent and important task of providing the services and facilities that will fulfill those three requests, one more question arises.

Isn’t it obvious that all young Canadians need and deserve those services and facilities in order to lead meaningful lives and to become fulfilled and fully engaged adults throughout their lives?