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Calgary family hopes to save others after losing daughter to suicide

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WATCH: A Calgary family grieving the loss of a 19-year-old Calgary woman is hoping to inspire change. Josie Wearmouth was a university student when she died by suicide in 2017. As Jill Croteau reports, the family is focusing on improving resources and access to mental health supports on campus. – Apr 22, 2021

It’s an impossible burden to bear. The family of 19-year-old Josie Wearmouth said she was keeping a painful secret; one that became painfully evident on Oct. 30, 2017, the day she died by suicide.

Her mother, Shelley Wearmouth, said her daughter had a big heart, was beautiful inside and out and loved to laugh. They weren’t aware of the pain she was suffering.

“Josie was a triple threat. She was a singer, a dancer and she could act. We had no idea.”

“Losing a child to suicide, for a mother, you are overwhelmed with guilt,” Shelley said.

“I can’t tell you how much ‘what if’s?’ I went through. What if we did this? What if she stayed and went to U of C?”

“It’s like a bomb goes off and this shrapnel goes everywhere and people close to her just get hit with this horrible pain.”

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Read more: ‘Suicide can happen to anyone and any age’: Warning signs to look for and tools to talk about it

Josie’s older brother, Curran Wearmouth, said he too was shocked by her death.

Curran and Shelley Wearmouth. Jill Croteau/Global News

“To see that happen was outside of the character I thought she was. From someone who loved life and enjoyed life and then to see someone take their own life didn’t make any sense to me at all,” Curran said.

Josie was a student at the University of British Columbia. She suffered from depression and wrote in her journal about the stigma that was suffocating her in silence.

Josie Wearmouth. Courtesy: Wearmouth family

“It’s difficult to imagine the pain you experience to make you want to take your own life,” Shelley said.

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“It is an extremely difficult puzzle to work through. With my obsessive thoughts, I went through it and tried to work it out. It was endless and almost pointless at the same time.”

“The stigma she felt — embarrassed she couldn’t overcome what she was feeling.”

But through their grief they want to make something good.

The Wearmouths have created a scholarship at the University of Calgary in Josie’s name.

Scholarship and research fund at U of C.
Scholarship and research fund at U of C. Courtesy: Wearmouth family

It will be granted to a student committed to improving on-campus mental health. Their vision also includes a fund for collaborative research starting the summer of 2021 on suicide prevention.

Read more: Saskatoon mother shares artwork created after son’s death to mark World Suicide Prevention Day

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Megan Podilchak is the associate director of Development and Individual Giving at U of C.

“It’s as much as the doctoral scholarship empowering a graduate student as well as supporting a research project for suicide prevention in mental health and looking at inviting other folks to the table like the students and the caregivers to be part of the conversation,” Podilchak said.

UCalgary Giving Day is April 22. Gifts given up until midnight on April 22 up to $2,500 will be matched dollar for dollar.

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Integrating mental health into public health' Health Matters: Integrating mental health into public health
Health Matters: Integrating mental health into public health – Mar 31, 2021

Andrew Szeto is the head of the University of Calgary’s campus mental health strategy.

“I think we have a lot of services but need to do a better job of making them relatable, accessible and relevant for the post secondary students,” Szeto said.

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Read more: ‘One size doesn’t fit all’: Canadian campuses desperately need better mental health services

Due to growing demand by students, the U of C is now offering single session counselling, connecting them more quickly to resources without being on a waiting list.

The family said they may never had the chance to help Josie but are hopeful about making it different for countless others.

Josie Wearmouth. Courtesy: Wearmouth family

“We have to make sure we are all in check before things become a bigger issue. I wish I could have that same conversation with Josie but unfortunately it got to the point where she didn’t want to speak about it and I never got the opportunity to,” Curran said.

Josie Wearmouth. Courtesy: Wearmouth family

“We really think we are going to make some difference,” Shelley said. “It’s not mom; it’s the students. They will work with friends and buddy up and overcome this. Just stop the pain, Josie’s pain and all the people so close to her.”

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Shelley said the family is thankful for the support of Children’s Hospital Aid Society (CHAS) in helping the family realize this initiative.

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.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

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