Fifteen-year-old Lukas Bender enjoys playing the piano and says his favourite pianist is Jonathan David Larson. He is into bike riding and video games. But the Airdrie teenager has also dealt with mental health struggles and has watched his friends and peers deal with bouts of depression, anxiety, and tragically suicide.
Bender and his mother, Chelsea Hill, spoke candidly about the realities of how teens struggle with their mental health and why this has spurred Bender to want to help others.
“The biggest thing is the number of deaths from suicidal teens, which is a big thing, that kind of motivated me. [The other] thing is the number of people that suffer from mental health illnesses or disorders that need the help they can get," he said.
Bender himself was admitted to the hospital last year after he realized he was at a high risk of suicide. His mental health started to deteriorate in grade eight and he said it continued to spiral downwards as he progressed in school.
“I was at a point where I didn't really like talking about my feelings. I liked to keep them to myself because I didn't know what people would think about them.”
Bender’s mom said that there were no outward signs pointing to her son being in such a crisis. While she had received phone calls from the school counsellor, she didn’t think it would progress to such a state.
“I took him to the doctor, we got some antidepressants, we started to plan. I kind of thought that that was helping until she [the school counsellor] called me again, and she said ‘I can't in good conscience. not recommend that you take him to emergency tonight,’” Hill said. “I was just blown away. He would come out and hang out with us and joke around. So, nothing seemed off.”
When her son approached her with the idea of starting a gofundme campaign to raise money, Hill said she wasn’t thrilled, thinking, that like any teen, Bender wanted some extra pocket cash.
“The next day he started it anyway. Then I saw what it was for and I opened it up and I read it,” she said. “I thought, I can't be mad at him for this. When he got home, I said, ‘I'll support you in any way.’”
Bender said that every single one of his group of friends has dealt with mental health struggles, something his mother says underscores just how much of a problem this is within the community.
“It's really more of a problem than I think the adults and the parents in the community even realize. And what do you do as a parent?” she asked. “You are there so that they can talk to you whenever they want. But like Lukas said, he didn't want to talk about it and he didn't know how to even bring it up.”
She also pointed out that when it comes to local resources within the city, it is not nearly enough.
“If Airdrie Mental Health [Airdrie Addiction & Mental Health Clinic] is really the only affordable option because the going price for a psychologist for one hour is $200, can every family that's dealing with this, afford that?” she said. “We need more resources, even if it's psychologists coming forward and donating their time or offering free counseling twice a week at the Boys and Girls Club or something like that.”
Hill’s son said that one of the biggest contributors to the mental health struggles of him and many of his peers is pressure at school and the stigma of opening up.
“I would say school is the biggest part; the expectations to do good at everything and to be the best,” he said. “A lot of people choose to push it aside and [they think] it's not really a big thing to them when it's a lot of big things to other people.”
Despite this, he is unwavering in his belief that by speaking out, he can help others. He said he wants everyone to know that things do get better.
“Just keep on going. There will always be a light at the end of the tunnel.”
On his gofundme website he also wrote that: I seek out happiness in everyone and peace for youth. Hopefully, this gets some money to help, even if you can donate 1 dollar, it matters.
Bender’s mom is also hoping to get in touch with the local high schools around Airdrie and is hoping to distribute cards with an uplifting message to students. She is also planning on selling the cards on local social media pages.
“100 per cent of all proceeds is going to go to his gofundme [for the Mental Health Foundation],” she said.
Mental Illness Awareness Week started on May 2 and will continue through to till May 8th. According to the Centre for Suicide Prevention, in 2107, 584 children under the age of 14 visited Alberta hospital emergency rooms for self-inflicted injury and suicide attempts. Bender himself said that in the past several years he knows of 2-3 suicides among his peers.
When asked what he hopes to do when he grows up, he said he’s thinking of two options.
“I want to be a psychologist or engineer. I want to be a psychologist because I want to help people and I just want to be there for others who don’t have other people for them. And [the] engineer [part] is because I just like working with my hands and building stuff.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis reach out to:
- Emergency – 911
- Addiction Helpline – 1-866-332-2322
- Mental Health Helpline – 1-877-303-2642I
- 211 AlbertaCrisis Text Line - Text CONNECT to 741741
- Family Violence – Find Supports – 310-1818
- Health Link – 811
- Income Supports – 1-866-644-5135
- Indian Residential School Survivors and Family, IRSSS – 1-866-925-4419
- Kids Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868
- Local Resources & Support - Crisis Services Canada
- MyHealth.Alberta.ca: List of Important Numbers
- Physician & Family Support Program - 1-877-767-4637
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