Mid-September saw us attend the Niagara Distress Centre’s Annual Suicide Awareness walk. In it’s 14th year, the aim of the walk is to raise awareness about suicide, those lost, and those they left behind. The Awareness walk is further a fundraising opportunity for the Distress Centre, who run a 24-hour crisis line, and are a major partner in the Niagara Suicide Prevention Coalition at the region.
I had the opportunity to meet Terra Turonski at the Awareness walk, for some of you, the name may sound familiar; Terra’s son, Tanner Unger, very publicly lost his battle with mental illness last year after a series of misfortunate events.
Tanner was loved – you can feel the love for Tanner at every bridge memorial event: from the incredible community members, friends, and family, who continue to support Tanner’s memory. If you weren’t fortunate enough to know Tanner in life, he was a compassionate, kind, empathetic, young man who would go out of his way to include everyone (even in school).
I feel I couldn’t write an update on political and community response without sitting down with Terra – as Tanner’s mother, I feel it important we recognize the impact of this issue directly on families and the community. Terra was gracious enough to meet with me: the following are excerpts of our conversation.
A year later, we’ve seen some political and community movement on the topic of suicide prevention; what changes would you like to see?
The barriers are a start but they don’t affect the root causes. The change I would like most to see is compassion training for front line workers.
By front line workers you mean? NRPS?
All front line workers, including the triage nurses at the hospital. If you have a bad experience with them, how are you supposed to trust them, honestly discuss your mental state, or go back for further treatments, when you are dismissed, ignored, or otherwise further negatively impacted by their behaviours towards you reaching out?
I personally have experienced some of that at the hospital – whenever I tell a nurse I have an appointment at the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Clinic I get: ohhhh (sad puppy dog look). I find it triggers me every time; I haven’t even walked into the session – all I want is someone to let me in and keep their commentary to themselves.
Exactly! If you are going to the hospital for mental health or addictions issues, for the first person you interact with, when you’re in trauma, to treat you in a judgmental manner – why would you stay?
Unfortunately, that appears to be a common situation in Niagara, it’s so frustrating. I know Niagara Health, and the LHIN, have been open to better practices but things seem to be moving at a sloth-like pace (I’d say glacial but those appear to have sped up).
There was a time recently when I had to take my other son to emerg and it didn’t go well. I tried to advise the nurse the last time we were there, they discharged Tanner and….
That must have been hard. How is Tanner’s brother doing now? How are you doing?
Austin and I are both just going through life at this point. Austin is going to be okay; a change of scenery and a fresh start will help him heal. I just go through the motions of the day. Some days are okay, and some are not. I want to keep the memories alive of Tanner. He is my heart and sole.
If there is one message you’d like me to stress through this piece, what would it be?
TThat these are human beings, with families, and not just numbers. Tanner was THAT GUY in high school… despite being popular, he took time for those who weren’t and would pass along his lunch if someone needed it more than he did. He never wanted anyone to hurt, like he did.
I often find that with empathetic people, I, myself, am learning to give myself the grace I give others.
Me too! But I am learning.
I’d like to know more about Tanner as a human being; what would you like us to know about him?
The things I’d like people to know about Tanner is his mental health and addiction did not define him. Tanner has a loving family that supported him in his skateboarding, snowboarding and riding around on his dirt bike. He was good in school and had a way to get everyone to love him. He is kind and caring. And most of all he is my child that I love more than anything.
Miigwech for sitting down with me and sharing Tanner with those of us who didn’t know him. While there is still so much work to be done, I hope this piece reminds those who can change things of the urgency and that everyone has someone out there who loves them.
If you are struggling with mental health or addictions, or know someone who is, please call: COAST: 1-866-550-5205 for a referral or more information.
CMHA Canadian Mental Health Association, Niagara Branch, also has resources and can be reached at: 905-641-5222.
CRISIS SUPPORT LINES: PATHSTONES, youth (and parents of): 1-800-263-4944
IF URGENT OR IMMEDIATE CARE IS NEEDED, CALL 9-1-1