WARNING: This article contains sensitive descriptions regarding suicide. Please read with discretion.

By all accounts, Michele Haire’s 26-year-old son was doing well.

He had recently graduated from Nova Scotia Community College and was thriving at his job as a pharmacy technician.

But while Cameron was excited about his career, he also had a lot of things weighing on him, his mother recalls.

“There was a homeless encampment (near our home) and it really bothered him that we as a society could let people live like that in all of the elements. He was worried about global warming …  just feeling like the world just really deteriorated,” she said.

“And hate, hatred, any kind of hatred against the LGBTQ community really bothered him.”

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To support her son, the family would provide food and water to the encampment, as well as create a welcoming space for LGBTQ2 friends at their home in Lower Sackville, N.S., outside Halifax.

“I tried to talk to him about maintaining and managing things at our level because we didn’t have control over things at a global level,” she said.

“We tried all of that, but I think he was just so discouraged with the state of the world and so discouraged with not feeling like he could get ahead.”

The first time he was in crisis, Michele recalls, she received a call from his employer because he hadn’t shown up to work. She came home to find him in dire need of help.

“We called the 24-hour mental health crisis line, and they said take them to emerg. There were no other resources or options. We had no family doctor that we could reach out to to see if his medications needed to be adjusted,” she said.

“I ended up calling virtual care … only to be told that they don’t deal with mental health situations. And Cameron did not want to go to the emergency department because he works there. He works in the hospital, and he ran the risk of running into co-workers.”

Click to play video: 'Mental Health Week and supports for Nova Scotians'

Mental Health Week and supports for Nova Scotians

Through his Employee Assistance Program (EAP), he was connected with a psychologist. Michele says she’s unsure what happened, but six weeks later, he died by suicide.

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“He left our home in the middle of the night and he obtained drugs to to end his life,” she said. “We’re just completely devastated.”

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That was Aug. 11, 2023.

Now, she, her husband and Cameron’s older brother are all searching for answers. And filled with worry.

“I worry about my (older son), because the things that Cameron was concerned about, so is (my other son). And so are a lot of Cameron’s peers,” she said.

“Any of the moms that I talk to who reach out, their children have the same concerns and worries. And it’s so scary…. These kids just feel so hopeless about the future.”

Michele is speaking out in light of Men’s Mental Health Awareness Month.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, suicide rates are about three times higher among men compared with women. Suicide is also the second leading cause of death among youth and young adults aged 15 to 34.

Seeking help not a sign of weakness

Simon Sherry, a clinical psychologist and professor at Dalhousie University’s department of psychology and neuroscience, says the statistics indeed show that suicide disproportionately affects men.

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“Somewhere between 70 and 75 per cent of those who die by suicide in Canada are male. And that sex ratio imbalance with more men than women holds in every country in the world,” he said.

Sherry says more initiatives and supports need to be focused on vulnerable citizens because “masculine stereotypes” don’t seem to have room for mental illness.

“Somewhere between 12 and 15 per cent of men are going to be diagnosed depressed at some point in their life. And we’re not good at helping those men. The stigma kicks in and the way we construct mental illness on a social level in our society too often doesn’t include men,” he said.

The answer, Sherry says, is understanding that seeking help is not a sign of weakness.

“It is a strong thing to do, and often a difficult thing to do. So we have to start running counter to those masculine gender norms that look at mental illness as a personal failure and a personal responsibility,” he said.

‘Going to try to do this for him’

For Michele, her son’s struggles have shown her how much young people have to deal with.

“I think since COVID and the economy the way it is, I think that has really impacted our youth in terms of what they can look forward to in the future. My son said, ‘I’ll never own my own home.’ And they all feel that way,” she said.

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“We had worries too when we were growing up. And he said, ‘The difference is, is that we see it 24 hours a day on our phone.’ He said, ‘You might have seen it on the news once in a while, but it’s in our face 24 hours a day.”

Last fall, legislative amendments were made to Nova Scotia’s Health Service and Insurance Act so that mental health and addictions care could be delivered as part of a publicly funded health-care system.

At that point, government had invested $65 million in mental health and addictions care over the past two years.

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia to introduce new legislation for universal care for mental health, addictions'

Nova Scotia to introduce new legislation for universal care for mental health, addictions

Michele believes more can be done, and would like to see walk-in clinics dedicated to mental health, or more access to mental health practitioners.

“I really think that if we could have gotten Cameron some more help and they may have been able to adjust his medications, I think maybe we’d be in a different situation today,” she said.

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“There are changes that have to be made. It’s too late for Cameron, but it’ll help somebody else hopefully. So I’m going to try to do this for him.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

In Nova Scotia, the Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Crisis line can be reached at 1-888-429-8167.

For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention at suicideprevention.ca.

Learn more about preventing suicide with these warning signs and tips on how to help.

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