The family of a 13-year-old transgender teenager are calling on the Nova Scotia government to do more to fight what they believe to be a growing suicide crisis. Justin Newell committed suicide after a long battle with verbal and physical harassment over being transgender. He had even tried fighting back by giving presentations at his Cape Breton school about transgender issues and what it meant to be different. But it wasn't enough to protect him from the backlash.
"They would tell him to ‘Go kill himself’ and ‘Go shoot yourself in the face’," said his aunt Stephanie Melski in an interview with CTV News. “It's hard for a child to be like that. He was 12-years-old and coming into his own, which makes it even more tragic. He figured out these things and now he's gone.” Even a week before his death, Justin told his aunt that he had managed to talk one of his friends out of committing suicide but, according to Melski, "He was telling others how to get around [the verbal abuse] and he just couldn't get around them himself, which is awful."
But Justin is only the most recent suicide involving Cape Breton adolescents. Two others have died in the past six months alone. Thirteen-year-old Madison Wilson had committed suicide on Father's Day over her inability to handle verbal and social media bullying. Adolescent mental health expert, Dr. Stan Kutcher, has been recruited by the Nova Scotia government to assist with the crisis. A professor at Dalhousie University's Department of Psychiatry, Dr. Kutcher has done extensive research on early onset depression and suicide in adolescents and will be accompanied by a team of mental health clinicians from Halifax to determine what initiatives will be needed.
In the meantime, community members are already planning their own response to the recent deaths. An anti-bullying walk is being planned for Cape Breton while members of Justin Newell's family will be marching in the August Pride Parade to show their support for transgender rights and to keep his memory alive.