For the sake of the living: event brings suicide out of the closet
Vicki Leaman wants you to know that her son died of an illness. A cruel, heartbreaking and — for many — unspeakable illness, but an illness no less. And she’s trying to get the word out about it.
On Saturday, Sept. 10, Leaman will join fellow survivors and students of this disease in Rocky Point Park in concert with the hundreds of thousands of others celebrating World Suicide Prevention Day around the globe.
She’s doing it for her son, but mostly she’s doing it for those still living.
“He wasn’t lazy or needing to pull himself up by his bootstraps,” Leaman told The Tri-City News. “There is no shame in the way he died. He had an illness, like a tumor in the brain.”
Taylor Leaman was 18 when he succumbed to his six-year struggle with depression on April 22, 2008. The disease had consumed exactly one third of his life “almost to the day,” Vicki remembered. There was no end in sight.
“He made his second suicide attempt after his psychiatrist told him there was no more point in coming — right in front of me.”
Raised in Coquitlam, Vicki said her son, who also left behind a sister, Stephanie, had everything going for him before depression derailed his life. Once the illness had taken hold, they tried everything to help him. But it wasn’t enough.
“To see your child suffer the way I had to watch my child suffer...” Vicki said, “You’re so selfish that you want them to keep living even though you know they’re having these struggles, but he was 12 years old when this started. He never had a proper adolescence.”
Vicki said that like many suburban kids suffering from depression, he never had a chance.
There were visits to the Coquitlam Child & Youth Mental Health Office and different Vancouver clinics and services, but nothing seemed to work. So they relied on adult medications, adult therapy and adult psychiatric wards and things only got worse.
By the time Vicki found the Suicide Attempt Follow-up Education & Research (SAFER) program in Vancouver, it was too late to save her son. But it wasn’t too late to save herself.
“When my son died I went to several councillors in our area trying to get the support that I required and they just didn’t get it,” Vicki recalled. “I went to [SAFER] and they were absolutely fabulous. They actually saved my life.”
But SAFER’s unique program for those contemplating suicide and those who have just lived through it was recently closed to those living outside of the Vancouver Coastal Health catchment, meaning those outside of Vancouver and Richmond.
“I want to get this area aware of the loss of services, the lack of facilities we have for both youth and adults in our area,” Vicki said. “We do not have an equivalent in Fraser Health and certainly not in the Tri-Cities.”
Marion Kim at the Fraser Health-run Tri-Cities Mental Health Office agreed that more programs specifically for those at risk of suicide and those coping with the loss of a loved one would be beneficial to the area.
“We do have clients that are admitted here for depression and suicide ideation. But if they’re imminently at risk we just send them right away to RCH [Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster] or Eagle Ridge [Hospital in Port Moody] but mostly RCH because Eagle Ridge doesn’t have a psych unit.”
For more long-term counseling needs, the centre runs a depression discussion group and an after-hours crisis line.
But what the Tri-Cities office doesn’t offer are suicide counseling services for people younger than 19 years old, Kim said.
“Around 19 to 30 we have the early psychosis program but they don’t typically deal with non-psychosis patients.”
Members of the Tri-Cities Mental Health Office have said they will attend the local Suicide Prevention Day event 1 to 3 p.m., as will members of Stand-Up for Mental Health and fellow suicide survivors.