KITCHENER Jeanna Dawson didn’t want to talk about it at first.
Now she won’t stop.
Dawson urges everyone to talk openly about suicide, knowing all too painfully it’s a huge, but hidden, problem in the region. Suicide can affect anyone, any family just like her own.
Her daughter Mariah Simcoe-Dawson was 15 when she died by suicide early this year.
“This is a secret. Nobody talks about it,” the Kitchener woman said. “I was embarrassed, ashamed that this happened to my family, my daughter.”
Dawson started Mariah’s Mission in her daughter’s memory, raising money for the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council to help with the non-profit, voluntary agency’s efforts to reduce suicidal behaviour through public awareness, education and advocacy.
“This is my way of keeping my baby’s name going. This is her legacy,” Dawson said.
She has already raised about $3,000 by selling yellow ribbons, bracelets and car magnets. On Saturday, there will be a fundraising celebration of Mariah’s 16th birthday.
Featuring food, raffles, dancing and games, the event is being held at the Moose Lodge in Kitchener from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. Tickets are $15 at the door.
Money collected is earmarked for posters for local high schools and a collection of inspirational stories from people who have struggled with suicidal thoughts, but survived. Dawson would like to see more school education about suicide and at a younger age, to reach children at risk such as her daughter.
Not talking doesn’t mean the problem isn’t there.
“You always think that this will never happen,” Dawson said. “It happens, so I’d really like people to not be blind. It can happen to anybody.”
Almost every week, a person dies of suicide in Waterloo Region.
The community would be outraged and demand action if there were than many deaths from another cause, said Tana Nash, co-ordinator of the Waterloo Region Suicide Prevention Council. Yet few want to address the issue of suicide.
“It’s not going away, so we have to find a different way to deal with it,” Nash said.
The number of suicides only hints at the scope of the problem. Many more attempt to kill themselves or think about it.
Every day, regional police respond on average to three suicide attempts. People intentionally hurt themselves and visit emergency departments for self-harm far more often in this region than across most of the province, according to recent studies.
“Usually every person you talk to has been touched in some way by suicide,” Dawson said.
Her daughter Mariah struggled for years with depression, seeking relief in therapy and medication.
Despite the deep sadness plaguing her, Mariah was a talented teenager who excelled in school and art and loved fashion and sharing her First Nations heritage through traditional dance. People were drawn to her.
“She was electric when she was in a room,” Dawson said. “She was cool.”
And Mariah wanted to change the world, make it better a goal her mother is carrying on with Mariah’s Mission.
“It’s Mariah’s way of still being an advocate even if she’s not here,” Dawson said.
She hopes her efforts can help another parent or child and save them the grief she feels every day after losing her daughter to suicide. She’s touched when she sees a stranger wearing a ribbon or bracelet with Mariah’s name.
“This is what I have left of my baby,” Dawson said.
She doesn’t want her remarkable daughter to be forgotten or avoided because people can’t face the issue of suicide.