National Post (National Edition)
Dustin Garron uses past challenges to help other troubled teens
Two years ago, Dustin Garron tried to end his life for the seventh time. Today, the 18-year-old student at Ottawa’s Carleton University focuses on helping other teens who may be contemplating suicide.
“Working in the field of mental health has helped my recovery so much,” says Garron, who founded the Mental Health Project for Youth in 2011, just days after being released from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). “I can help because I understand how stressful today’s world is for teenagers. They have to face such a wide range of stressors at school, with siblings and family conflicts, in relationships and over body image or memories.
“I stick on that one. It’s hard to move on when you think about the past.”
Garron has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a condition in which people have long-term patterns of unstable or turbulent emotions and tend to see things in extremes. He says that the tipping point for him came between January and March 2011 when his family went through a financial crisis. Simultaneously, he was reeling from disruptions in his personal life.
“We lost services like cellphones, Internet and TV, for instance. Although that seems small to me now, at the time it felt that my world was collapsing. I’m not very good with change,” Garron says. “Also, I had to deal with the breakup of a relationship and breakups can be extremely difficult for teenagers.”
At the same time, as the student trustee representing his school board in Renfrew, Ont., he was selected as the liaison with the Ministry of Education in discussing Ontario’s Equity and Inclusion Bill. This placed him in a difficult position as a gay teen working for a Roman Catholic school board.
“My school board was not very supportive of my being the liaison and I felt I was a failure because I could never get anything accomplished. I was stressed out from work, my relationship and my home life and I just buckled under,” he says.
Garron made the most serious of his several attempts to end his life, and it resulted in his being on life support in intensive care at CHEO for a week. The fact he survived at all, and his recovery, brought him to a new point in his life.
“I wanted to turn my bad situation into something positive,” he says. “I wanted to create an organization that made teens aware of mental illness, ways to cope with mental health and the resources that existed in their communities.”
This goal soon became reality in the form of the Mental Health Project for Youth, a not-for-profit organization incorporated in May 2012. He devotes considerable time to the project, while working toward a degree in women’s and gender studies. Later, his hopes to continue with graduate work in not-for-profit management. “Keeping busy, being able to focus on one project and set myself a goal at school has totally taken my mind away from suicidal thoughts.”
Being engaged in meaningful things can decrease the risk of suicide, says Dr. Ian Manion, the executive director of the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health. Suicide is a very complex issue, he notes. “Every case is different and there’s a specific context in every case.”
But some underlying factors are often behind suicidal tendencies. “We know there is a strong association between mental illness and suicide. Among individuals who have died by suicide, 80 to 90% of them have been or could be diagnosed with mental illness.”
Therefore, he says, both early intervention and mental health promotion have an impact on decreasing the rate of suicide.
He notes that, as well as mental illness, limited coping skills, an inadequate support system and substance abuse or self-medication can increase the risk of suicide.
“But most young people who are suicidal have some ambivalence,” Manion says. “Depending on the situation, they may lean toward wanting to live or die. The real emphasis should be on helping them find more reasons to be alive.”
This content is sponsored by Bell Canada in support of the Bell Let’s Talk mental health initiative.