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February 6, 2023

4 mins read

Toronto, ON

Advancing systems to support child and youth mental health

After her son’s death by suicide, Leslie Kulperger is dedicating her life to co-create changes to reduce the risk of child and youth suicide.

Myles had a difficult time conforming to the demands of everyday life.

He had big dreams.

He wanted to make the world a better place, one with more empathy and compassion for young people who struggle with mental health.

He had a beautiful smile and a contagious sense of humour.

He also struggled.

photo of Leslie Kulperger

“One thing somebody said to me when my son, Myles, passed was ‘we all thought he was doing so well,’” his mother Leslie Kulperger shares. “In reality, no one really knows what it was like to be him.”

Leslie Kulperger, Founder of Myles Ahead

In Canada, suicide is the second-leading cause of death among children and youth aged 10 to 25.

“Parents and caregivers with children who suffer with mental health challenges need access to appropriate supports and services," Leslie says. "Unfortunately, navigating the barrier-ladened system to find supports is incredibly challenging, leading to lengthy waitlists or worse, dead ends.”

In honour of her son's life, Leslie founded Myles Ahead, Advancing Child and Youth Mental Health (Myles Ahead) — a national charity dedicated to bridging gaps and scaling best evidence-informed practices to help ensure children, youth, and their families, have timely access to mental health services, with the ultimate goal of mitigating the risk of suicide for young people.

Watch the video to see how Myles Ahead is co-creating meaningful system changes to support child and youth mental health.

Watch the video on Myles Ahead

“Going to an emergency room and having to wait eight to 12 hours for a clinical psychiatrist to show up, because they’re on call, has the potential to exacerbate a child’s mental health,” she says. “After I lost my son, I wondered if he would be alive today if he could have walked down the street to a local youth hub, or if he had more timely access to appropriate early interventions. I decided to use my skills to help create a cohesive system of support so that other children and their families would not have to go through what we went through."

Creating a SafER Space

Based on the system and data research, Emergency Rooms (ERs) became a priority focus area, given the growing number of young people arriving in ERs in relation to mental health crises, and the increased risk of suicide associated with an adverse ER experience. In response to this need, Myles Ahead co-created the SafER Space initiative. SafER Space includes a customizable framework to inform advancement opportunities relating to the “people, process, and place” to reimagine the ER through a user-experience lens.

photo of a young woman petting her dog outdoors

Myles Ahead is currently co-designing a new youth mental health hub framework called Myles to Mars, which will help to proliferate best evidence-informed practices in the creation of new youth hubs in underserved communities, and support the co-integration of those practices within existing youth hubs across Canada. Through the Energizing Life Community Fund, the grant will support the diverse lived-experience youth collaborative process established to co-design the Myles to Mars framework.

“When a young person is experiencing mental distress, they may feel like they have nowhere to turn, like they are alone, or worse. If I think about a future in which a cohesive system is truly supportive of child and youth mental health, I imagine that same young person walking to a local youth hub and feeling immediately like they belong and that they can get the help they need. If we don’t take the time to create an alternative future, suicide will remain the leading health related cause of death for young people aged 10-25. We just want to do what we can to help promote resiliency and life by creating a safer system with safer places for young people,” Leslie adds.

Warning signs and how to help

Recognizing the signs that someone might be at risk of suicide is not always obvious. Knowing what to look out for, what to say, and what to do can be lifesaving.

Myles Ahead offers the following tips:

  1. Learn the risk factors for suicide. While not always obvious, and not always detectible, some signs indicate an increased risk of suicide, such as: long-lasting sadness or depression; withdrawing from friends or activities previously of interest; changes in appearance, behaviour or attitudes associated with eating, sleeping, speed of communication – faster or slowed; increased risk taking and dangerous behaviour; expressing or showing signs of hopelessness, despair, being a burden, or feeling trapped; making preparations such as giving away favourite possessions, visiting friends and family out of the blue, atypical cleaning, online searches related to suicide; experiencing a recent trauma, loss, or crisis, including death of a loved one or pet, divorce, major illness diagnosis, and financial issues.
  2. Ask. If you are concerned that someone might be at risk of suicide, avoid any internal biases or judgements you might have, and ask them directly if the person has considered hurting themselves or ending their life. For additional guidance, this video may be of help.
  3. Share what you know. Help advance awareness so we are all better able to identify the signs, have a basic understanding of how to speak to someone who might be at risk of suicide, and where to reach out for help.
  4. Seek help. Be an ally and help find support. If the situation is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest ER. If the situation is not an immediate emergency, the following are some crisis support lines and organizations dedicated to consider reaching out to:

Crisis Support Resources

Hope for Wellness
24/7 Support for Indigenous Peoples
Call 1-855-242-3310

Black Youth Helpline
Daily from 9am to 10pm
Call 1-833-294-8650

Kids Help Phone
24/7 Support
Text: 686868
Call 1-800-668-6868

What’s Up Virtual Counselling
Mon-Fri 9am to 7pm, Sat 10am - 4pm
Call 1-866-585-6486

Crisis Services Canada
24/7 Support
Call 1-833-456-4566
Text 45645

Myles Ahead, Advancing Child & Youth Mental Health

416.929.6675 |