Ottawa Business Journal - Ottawa at Home - - CONTENTS -

very par­ent’s worst fear is to lose a child. For Sylvia Cuhaci, that fear be­came a re­al­ity when her mid­dle son Hayq died at the age of 29 af­ter a scar­ring strug­gle with mental ill­ness.

Hayq’s death was not easy. He was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a psy­chotic episode at the time he died, and po­lice had been called to his apart­ment. Both sides over­re­acted out of fear for their safety, and Hayq died in the en­su­ing chaos.

“He was as­phyx­i­ated fight­ing for his life in the arms of those he thought would help him,” says his mother.

An in­quest was held with the jury rec­om­mend­ing the ed­u­ca­tion of po­lice of­fi­cers about mental ill­ness, and ar­gu­ing for the re­vi­sion of po­lice pro­to­col when deal­ing with men­tally ill cit­i­zens. But as­ton­ish­ingly, the dev­as­tated Cuhaci fam­ily did not as­sign blame. In­stead, they chose to sup­port ed­u­ca­tion and out­reach so that sim­i­lar deaths could be pre­vented in the fu­ture.

To that end, and in an ef­fort to make sense of her in­cred­i­ble loss, Sylvia Cuhaci turned to Project Up­stream, a small, hands-on or­ga­ni­za­tion in Ot­tawa for the men­tally ill that of­fers com­mu­nity sup­port ser­vices and creatively ad­dresses the per­sonal health needs of its clients.

“Project Up­stream fo­cuses on the fam­ily – it tries to nor­mal­ize life and meet emerg­ing needs,” says Cuhaci. “ And we have just launched a ‘Youth Mat­ters’ cam­paign to help young peo­ple with mental ill­ness re­claim their lives as they trans­fer from youth to adult ser­vices,” she adds about a project that is par­tic­u­larly dear to her heart.

“When Hayq was di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia we were very re­lieved be­cause we thought ‘well, now we’ll have an an­swer or cure’ but that was not meant to be,” she notes qui­etly. “In­stead, we be­gan a seven-year jour­ney into mental ill­ness where some­times our fam­ily didn’t know how to help Hayq or each other,” she con­tin­ues. “Some­times, as we went through crises, the only way we could cope was not to speak to each other.”

Now, Sylvia Cuhaci has made it her mis- sion to help pro­vide hope to oth­ers who are walk­ing the path she was forced to take along­side her strong, bright, hockey-play­ing son as his life was shat­tered by mental ill­ness.

“If you can help a young per­son be­fore they fall through the cracks, or be­fore they see them­selves as in­cur­able, you will make a dif­fer­ence,” she con­cludes. And al­ready, due to her quiet, dig­ni­fied com­mit­ment to the is­sue, other fam­i­lies fac­ing a sim­i­lar di­ag­no­sis have found their own path a lit­tle brighter and a lot more hope­ful.

To at­tend a Gala on Novem­ber 18 in sup­port of the Youth Mat­ters Cam­paign fea­tur­ing guest speaker The Hon. Michael Wil­son, visit­jec­tup­ or call 613248-3329.

Cather­ine Clark is the host of Be­yond Pol­i­tics on CPAC.

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