Vrishank Saini, a 17-year-old from Calgary, Alta., is off to the University of British Columbia and concentrating his studies and future on neuroscience with a minor in computer science.
But years ago, when Saini was in junior high, something happened that left a lasting impact.
A fellow student died by suicide.
Saini was in complete shock. He didn’t see it coming.
“We were ill-informed about what depression looked like,” said Saini, “and we saw, only when she committed suicide, what depression actually was.
“She was really happy. She was really energetic and she had a bunch of friends. She was on a bunch of teams and yeah, she was really an outgoing person.”
That devastating experience led Saini to develop a free app called Bioscope Wellness. It focuses on mental health, provides the number to the suicide prevention helpline and a place for people to connect over message boards.
“We think sadness when we think depression. We think excessive sleep or lack of sleep and then a lack of appetite,” said Saini, “but it can be diametrically opposite.
“Bioscope Wellness acts as an educational platform to teach those students and other individuals to catch those symptoms – how to reach out, the dos and don’ts, so that we can prevent those similar cases from leading to suicide.”
Saini said the app has been reviewed by medical professionals and administrators monitor chat rooms to provide support and make sure they are safe.
“You can be connected to a group chat where you can chat with other people facing the same adversity that you are.
“You know that you’re not alone.”
Saini said his experience volunteering at the Peter Lougheed intensive psych unit in Calgary had opened his eyes to the impact of mental illness.
He also fears the pandemic is pushing more young people to their breaking point.
“Depression can hit anybody at any time.”
Mara Grunau, executive director for the Centre for Suicide Prevention, said preliminary numbers show suicide deaths in Canada are down — but crisis calls have increased.
“I think it’s fair to say that a lot of crisis centres are reporting a lot of COVID calls,” Grunau said.
“So Canadians are reporting that they’re generally feeling like they’re languishing.”
While crisis calls have increased “significantly,” Grunau said it could be because more people are asking for help.
“We are not seeing an increase in suicide in any demographic. However, anecdotally, many health authorities are reporting an increased number of young people presenting to the emergency room departments in mental health crisis.”
Grunau wants everyone to watch for possible signs of suicide.
“What we encourage people to watch for is a significant change in behaviour, either way.”
She stressed intervention works. Start a conversation and be specific, said Grunau.
“You’re never at the dog park anymore,” or “You took down your Facebook page.
“What’s going on? Are you thinking of suicide?
“Which is a very difficult question to ask. But if we say the word, they don’t have to.”
If someone answers yes, Grunau said try to not panic and call the crisis line together.
“Just help them get to help.”
Saini believes more conversations about suicide will save lives — and just like his fellow student who died, understanding severe depression can look different for everyone.
“She was using that energy, that happiness to shield her true self and her true state.”