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Teen who died by suicide experienced 'profound' bullying: report
WINNIPEG -- A new report from the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth on the suicide death of a teenage boy is calling on the province to create a long-term facility for youth mental health treatment.
The report, by Manitoba advocate Daphne Penrose, focuses on the life and death of Matthew, who died by suicide in November 2017 – nine days before his 17th birthday. It details Matthew’s experience with bullying; his mental health struggles, including generalized anxiety disorder, major depression and substance abuse; his absenteeism from school; his previous suicide attempts; and his struggles to access long-term treatment.
“Many Manitobans who read this story may see themselves in its pages,” Penrose said in the executive summary.
“While his early years were happy, Matthew experienced profound levels of bullying in junior high, trauma that appeared to trigger and then exacerbate mental illnesses. He lived through near-daily torment at his school and Matthew and his family felt as though they were left to deal with the effects of the bullying on their own.”
A NEED FOR LONG-TERM CARE
The report notes the many services and resources Matthew used to address his mental health throughout his life including: a private therapist, Winnipeg police, a counsellor from the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, the Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre, the Youth Crisis Stabilization System, the Mobile Crisis Team, the Health Sciences Centre Children’s Emergency department; and a CFS family support worker.
But it also notes the difficulty his family had in finding him a long-term facility for his mental health.
“No such facility exists in our province, despite the many youth who require it,” Penrose said.
“It was on the morning when Matthew’s mother was seeking information about such a facility in the United States that she returned home to find Matthew’s body.
“As a province we cannot allow another parent to experience the heart-breaking desperation of witnessing their child slowly disappear before their eyes and knowing there is nothing available here in our province that can help them.”
THE IMPACT OF BULLYING
Another major focus of the report is the impact bullying had on Matthew.
The investigation concluded that the teenager experienced “profound” bullying during junior high, which affected his ability to feel safe and consequently attend school.
“Although Matthew’s death occurred two years after he finished junior high, his story reflects ample evidence that the bullying he experienced there and his feelings of being left to manage those dynamics alone certainly altered the trajectory of his life and eventual death,” the report said.
The report goes on to say that schools in the province have an important role to play when it comes to combatting bullying. It notes though the education system did provide student support services to Matthew, these resources “did not address the bullying or create the necessary conditions for Matthew to feel a sense of safety and belonging in his school environment.”
As part of the report Penrose provided eight recommendations:
- The Department of Education should work with school divisions to promote learning objectives that focus on mental health literacy and well-being skills;
- Suspensions and expulsions in schools should be phased out, as long as there’s no safety risk to students and staff;
- The Department of Education should promote safe and caring schools;
- Improve access to treatment for children and youth experiencing a mental health crisis;
- Well-trained mental health workers should be assigned as case managers to help children, youth and their families navigate mental health services in the province;
- Manitoba’s health department should establish a long-term residential facility for mental health treatment;
- The department of health should release its framework for a transformation of the youth mental health and addiction system; and
- The government should immediately set a proclamation date for the outstanding portions of the Advocate for Children and Youth.
“This is a children’s rights issue,” Penrose said.