By Bob McGahey
Last night at the Canadian Forum on Public Education, participants had the opportunity to hear from Mark Henick. Mark honoured us by sharing his moving personal story of living with mental illness leading to a number of attempts to take his own life. At 13, Mark made his first attempt at suicide while sitting with his grade 8 guidance teacher – luckily, the teacher was able to intervene. Mark’s final attempt on a bridge in Sydney, Nova Scotia was fortunately interrupted by a passer-by who stopped on the bridge and took the time to speak with him. The stranger in the light brown corduroy jacket eventually caught him when Mark chose to let go of the rail, then dragged him back over the railing.
From that moment on, Mark pursued his goal to be like the “stranger in the light brown corduroy jacket”. He impressed upon us the need to also act as the helping stranger to those around us. Building on the introduction by Ed Mantler from the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Mark reminded us that, like any illness, the recovery from mental illness is a sometimes long and winding path. Those with a mental illness need the same compassion and understanding that we would give to those with any other form of illness or disability.
It is safe to say few who listened to Mark’s story were not affected. The open discussion of suicide is timely given the challenges faced by Canadian children and youth. We were all challenged to change the way we might be thinking about suicide and mental illness and to be leaders in the change.
To watch a similar presentation you may wish to watch Mark’s TEDx talk which today has over 2 million views.
(Bob McGahey is Director of Advocacy and Labour Rights at the Canadian Teachers’ Federation)