Yolanda Cameron on the Importance of Youth Mental Health
In September 2011, Yolanda and Jamie Cameron lost their 16 year old son Wes to suicide.
Wes was a bright young man with a generous and happy nature. He was athletic, popular, charismatic, and had an infectious smile that lit up any room he was in. In fact, he usually seemed happy when he was around his family, and he appeared to have everything going for him – which is why it was tough for the Cameron family to understand what happened to Wes.
However, after Wes passed, the Cameron family found text messages on Wes’ phone that revealed some of the darker issues Wes had been dealing with. They also accessed his social media accounts and found that his peers were leaving numerous messages knowing that they wouldn’t be receiving a response. The messages contained everything from expressions of grief from shocked community members and friends to messages filled with stories of depression, thoughts of suicide, and other dangerous and painful thoughts.
Following these two discoveries, the Cameron family quickly realized that people – particularly youth – were releasing their emotions in a way that seemed very safe to them. And as Yolanda and her family read the messages, they realized that they could do something to help.
Shortly after, Yolanda Cameron and Jamie Cameron began advocating for youth mental and emotional wellness in the Grey, Bruce and surrounding areas. They also started a non-profit organization called WES for Youth Online in collaboration with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Grey Bruce Branch.
We recently spoke with Wes’ mother, Yolanda Cameron, and asked her the following questions:
What inspired you to share your son’s story with the world?
We decided to share our story because we were completely blindsided when our son Wes died. Knowing him the way we did, it seemed totally inconceivable that he died by suicide. Even now, it’s hard to accept how and why he died.
Speaking with other parents, I still get stories of how their children are having a hard time dealing with the fact Wes died by suicide. And in my position as a funeral director, I heard from many families that had lost young people to suicide. Over time, I came to realize that I was in a position to help, and to let others know what it’s like to live in a family affected by suicide.
Tell us about WES for Youth Online and the impact you’re hoping the initiative makes in the community
When we chose to start this organization, we decided to use WES’ first name as an acronym that stands for Wellness and Emotional Support, and the use of Wes’ name and smiley face on our website is how he mostly signed his name.
Our main focus is to promote mental wellness and emotional support to youth between the ages of 13-19 in the Grey Bruce, North Huron, Collingwood and North Wellington Counties. We offer a community resource centre in Walkerton and online counseling from trained psychotherapists through the WES for Youth website. The online software that powers our website was developed specifically with youth in mind. It’s safe, secure and confidential. Young people aren’t required to obtain parental consent to use it, and they can feel comfortable that the content of the online sessions won’t be tracked because everything is encrypted.
Ultimately we started WES for Youth Online because we want youth to know that it’s okay to have problems, and it’s okay to ask for help. And while there’s not always a simple fix to the problems they’re facing, we hope that having someone to turn to for understanding and guidance can make every one of their days better than the last.