A Guelph teenager who lost both parents to mental health issues says he is disappointed at the lack of response he received after mailing letters challenging every member of parliament across Canada to take action and address the country’s suicide crisis.
Noah Irvine, age 17, said he spent countless hours and hundreds of dollars sending the letters to the 338 members of parliament.
Out of the 338 letters sent some six months ago, Irvine said to date he has received just 40 responses.
“I did the math. I got a 12 per cent response rate. That’s abysmal. When you hear 12 per cent response rate, that doesn’t really inspire a lot of confidence,” he said.
In the letter, Irvine explained how he lost his mother to suicide when he was just five years old and about the loss of his father in 2015 to mental illness.
His father was 40 when he died and his mother was just 24 years of age at the time of her suicide.
From there, Irvine cites suicide statistics for people of First Nations heritage and for those who served in Canada’s military and the effects of underfunding mental health services.
“I wanted to specifically do something for my parents, because I lost both of them. I wanted to create national dialogue. Unfortunately a lot of politicians don’t want to do it,” he said.
Canada, said Irvine, is one of the few developed nations that does not have a national suicide prevention plan.
He ends the letter by challenging MPs to meet with the families of suicide victims, the mentally ill and families of the mentally ill.
Disappointed with the lack of response, the Guelph teen has now begun phoning the constituency offices of those MPs who didn’t reply to ask them why.
So far, said Irvine, most have said they didn’t deal with the letter because the teen doesn’t live in their riding.
“That’s the first problem right there. Yeah, I’m not a constituent but this is not just a Guelph issue. It’s a Canadian issue,” said Irvine.
“I’m 17, I’m involved in politics. There’s a need for young people to get involved, I’m attempting to get involved, but I’m stiffed by politicians across the country who don’t want me to be involved,” he added.
Irvine is currently in Ottawa visiting family, and has been using the time to visit or call constituency offices in the area.
“I’m going there and personally giving them another letter and asking them if it’s going to take another six months for a response,” said Irvine.
He also hopes to understand why his original letters were not responded to in the six months since they were sent.
“It’s an issue across the country. I want to know why they think it isn’t an issue in their riding,” he said.
Most conspicuous of the non-responses is the member for Papineau — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Jane Philpott, Canada’s minister of Health.
“Justin Trudeau did not respond to me, even though his mother has dealt with mental health,” said Irvine.
Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield was an early ally in his quest, said Irvine, and has met with the teen a number of times face to face, as has Wellington—Halton Hills MP Michael Chong.
Toronto-based MP Robert Oliphant and Phil McColeman, MP for Brantford—Brant, responded to Irvine's letter within a week of him sending it out.
Irvine understands that MPs are busy, but wonders why those two MPs were able to find the time to respond quickly while so many others made no effort in six months.
In all, Irvine has received responses from MPs across most of the provinces and territories in Canada, including B.C., Quebec and Yukon Territory.
Rona Ambrose, former interim leader of the Conservative party of Canada gave Irvine as response, though current party leader Andrew Scheer did not. Also absent was a response by current NDP leader Tom Mulcair.
“There are still good politicians in office — but in my opinion they are few and far between,” said Irvine.
Although disappointed by the lack of response his letter has received from most MPs so far, Irvine said that has steeled his resolve.
“It’s making me a little down — it’s discouraging because I want them to respond — but it also emboldens me to do more because if you’re not going to respond, I am going to call your office because I want to know why you’re not going to respond,” he said.