Depression and suicide: Henick speaks out

The crowd hadn’t yet settled into their seats when Mark Henick said:

“I was in the eighth grade the first time I tried to kill myself.”

The room became quiet. Henick paused for a moment, allowing his opening statement to sink in, and then he introduced himself.

Henick’s lecture on depression and suicide is a personal subject. He’s knowingly lived with for 8 years, although he believes he’s been unlike most people his entire life.

Mark Henick reviews his notes before his speech. Photo by Tammy Murray.
“I was a bit of a strange little kid; I liked to be alone a lot… I liked to play by myself. I was perhaps a little bit different than other kids – that signs very early on would have been evident for anybody who was looking.”

As a teenager trying to cope in a blended family in a rough neighbourhood in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Henick realized nobody was looking. Nobody looked until he pulled a knife from his bag while sitting in an office with the guidance counsellor.

“He just asked me, he recoiled a little, I remember that, he just asked me what I was going to do. I could hear his, I could hear the quiver in his voice as he asked me what, what I was going to do.”

Henick had left his classroom and wandered down to the cafeteria to ask for a long knife. He told the teacher there he’d been sent to get one to cut a cake in class. Henick’s requirements for the knife were quite specific; long, straight edged and non-serrated.

After securing the knife, he wandered around the school for awhile eventually going to the counsellor’s office.

“I went in and I was having this fight with myself. Well what am I doing now? I had this all planned out, but it didn’t seem like a great idea anymore.”

Whether too stubborn to give up on the idea or too desperate in his darkness to carry on Henick didn’t say but he twice refused the counsellors request to give up the knife.

“As I said ‘No’ I held the knife by the blade, I don’t know why, it had a handle,” he paused and chuckled. “But anyway, I held the knife by the very end of the blade… and I squeezed the knife in my fist, and I held it up to my throat… I could feel the blood dripping down my hand and down my arm because I was squeezing the blade. He said my name, he said Mark could you give me the knife please, then I said ‘No, I can’t do that. I need to do this’…”

Henick said they sat there for what seemed like forever until he got to a point of “almost clarity.”

“I came to a point where I just stopped thinking. I took a deep breath, I closed my eyes, and just before I pushed it into my throat he tackled me.”

Henick’s graphic testimony of this, his first of many attempts to commit suicide, is deliberate. He knows if he’s still feeling uncomfortable talking about it and the audience is uncomfortable hearing about it then there’s still a lot of work to be done de-stigmatizing mental illness.

Students, faculty and other guests crowd into the auditorium at Brian Mulroney Hall. Photo by Tammy Murray.

This was Henick’s fourth and last lecture at St. Thomas University. He graduates in the spring. Henick said when he first started the lectures he had only six or seven people listen to him, gradually expanding over the years.

“This was actually the biggest crowd I’ve ever had… I was pretty surprised when I looked back and saw that the room was full.”

Many students were present as well as some faculty and the director of counselling services for the University of New Brunswick.

Psychology students Erin Flower and Leanna Garrett waited their turn to speak with Henick after his lecture. Both had strong impressions of his story.

“It was really good to hear his experience and hear how he coped with it,” said Flower

STU student Samara Young talks with Mark Henick after his lecture. Photo by Tammy Murray.
 “I thought it was really touching and really heart warming that he’s able to tell his experience to all the university students and I think it touched a lot of people’s hearts and made them realize that people can relate to him too,” Garret said.

Samara Young is in her third year studying psychology and criminology. She has heard stories like Henick’s before while counselling youths in the Yukon, she admired his courage to be so open.

Henick can’t recall the exact number of attempts he’s made to take his own life but he did relive one which he said was the closest he’d come to dying. Henick put down his note book and prepared to climb up onto a table in front of the crowd.

Mark Henick. Photo by Tammy Murray.

“Actually I’m going to take my boots off so I don’t kill myself, that’d be kind of ironic,” he said to a chorus of laughter.

All joking aside, Henick was making it real, reliving his attempt to jump off a highway overpass.

“I climbed over the railing… I could feel the concrete, I could feel my toes dangling over, there was about five stories below me at least.”

Henick struggled with the memory more than once as he stood on the table, arms outstretched, eyes closed, face scrunched up with concentration. He describes the bridge being closed off and people lined up on each end. The bar crowd heading home, police officers preparing to intervene. Henick recalls one person yelling at him ‘jump you coward.’

“I again had a moment where I just cleared my thoughts, just stopped thinking… took a deep breath, took my hands off the railing, and I just let myself start to fall. It felt so good.”

Looking emotional, Henick relives his attempt to jump to his death from an overpass. Photo by Tammy Murray.

Henick paused a moment to clear his throat, apologized, and then carried on in a trembling voice.

“It was the first time I felt free in my less than two decades of life. Before I could fall I felt somebody’s arm grab me from around the back. I don’t know who it was, I still never did find out.”

Later Henick praised the unselfish efforts of the man who had saved him. He told his audience anyone of them had the power to change lives.

“The person who pulled me over that railing on the overpass, I never met in my life, never met him again. I don’t know his name, I’ve always wanted to thank him, but that’s not why he did it. He didn’t do it to be thanked. He did it because he saw somebody on the edge, and reached out. So I ask these things of you, to be the person who reaches out.”

New media option for New Brunswick

Stop the presses! There’s a new kid in town. Well really, it’s a new media source for New Brunswick.

The Brief is a one-page, double-sided publication printed on 30 per cent recycled paper. On average it contains five or six stories and a list of community events. Oh, and it’s a monthly publication with stories to get people asking questions.  Stories like “many felt it took too long to get police to respond to missing N. B. First Nations teen Hilary Bonnell.”

The Brief could also be considered the baby of the much larger and more sophisticated parent: This web based publication launched in August of this year.

Marie-Christine Allard with a copy of The Brief, a new publication in N.B.  Photo by Tammy Murray
Marie-Christine Allard with a copy of The Brief, a new publication in N.B. Photo by Tammy Murray

Marie-Christine Allard describes her position as being one of the founding members and a part of the editorial collective. She and other members feel it’s important for N.B. to have an alternative news source.

“The idea was that it would be accessible and it would be critical and independent,” said Allard.

Allard said the idea for the media co-op was inspired at the New Brunswick Social Forum in Sept. 2008 and was spurred on by the closure of the Carlton Free Press in Woodstock just one month later.

Click here for Marie’s audio comment

“Because of what we consider to be Irving’s anti-competitive practices. Which it’s very clear, legally they didn’t do anything wrong, but it’s very clear that they were just trying to get the Carlton Free Press out of business. So we kind of felt a certain sense of urgency there, that we really needed to get something together,” said Allard.

Via email correspondence and frequent meetings in Fredericton, the concept of the media co-op was formed.

“It was mostly just people that were really concerned about this,” Allard said.

The project consists of the “editorial collective” and a “broader organizing body”. Allard said they are mainly based in Fredericton at this time but plan to spread throughout the province with an “advisory committee.”

“It’s a group of 14 people who are democratically elected, who represent just different sectors of underrepresented communities or issues in the province.”

Allard said they currently have representatives for gay and lesbian issues, women’s issues, Acadian and Francophone, First Nations and rural farming issues.

“It’s all these issues and communities that we feel are often underrepresented in the media.”

She said the job of these representatives is to ensure they’re not ignoring an issue or certain sector of society.

“The role of that rep is also to seek out stories or seek out people who could offer commentary or that kind of thing.”

Michael Camp is an assistant professor and the chair of journalism at St. Thomas University. He said the ability for citizens to write and publish things they care about on the internet, “is a wonderful thing.”

“There is definitely room and I think a desire, in this province in particular to have a completely free and unfettered journalistic outlet. We have a few, we could use more. So it’s a good thing,” Camp said.

Michael Camp has a look at the website for NB Media Co-op, a new online media option for New Brunswick.  Photo by Tammy Murray
Michael Camp has a look at the website for NB Media Co-op, a new online media option for New Brunswick. Photo by Tammy Murray

Camp said with internet access and word of mouth, small publications have the potential to reach an enormous audience.

“All it takes is a few friends telling a few friends telling a few friends that this new website for example is out there and suddenly you’ve got a core of people reading something that has as much reach as the Telegraph Journal. I think these can be explosive.”

Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation was the guest lecturer at St. Thomas University’s annual Dalton Camp Lecture last week. Her assertion that professional journalism could survive alongside the volunteers on the internet was compelling but not entirely convincing. Many in the field are wondering just who is going to pay journalists to do their jobs when there’s so much news available for free.

While the organizers for The Brief and the website are currently all volunteers, Allard said they are working to change that.

“We do want to have a paid staff and be able to pay for stories. But that’s going to come when we’re able to have a solid business plan and can get some grants, get some funding,” said Allard.

The Brief and STU campus newspaper the Aquinian, side by side at McCain Hall.  Photo by Tammy Murray
The Brief and STU campus newspaper the Aquinian, side by side at McCain Hall. Photo by Tammy Murray

Allard feels the media concentration by the Irving empire in N. B. is a problem because some issues are glossed over or don’t get coverage at all.

“I do feel that a lot of things aren’t being covered in the Irving media and I’m not blaming the journalists at all… I’ve actually been talking to some former Irving employees or current Irving employees that said ‘Yeah, we do know who our employer is and you can’t help that’ and even if there isn’t that actual person looking over your shoulder, they felt there was a certain amount of self-censorship knowing that you can’t write certain things about the Irvings or you can’t cover certain issues or certain criticisms. We’re not funded by them so we don’t have that obligations, we’re member funded… so we hope to offer an independent perspective.”

Michael Camp understands the issue of media concentration; he started his career with the Irvings.

Click here for Michael’s audio comment

“Knowing some of the Irvings as I do, they feel that they’re helping New Brunswick… they feel without them this would be a much more troubled place with many fewer jobs… That’s the sort of bias I would have if I was an Irving, but it is a bias and I think it’s impossible for it not to rub off on the editorial and news content of their newspapers.”

Allard said it’s about accountability.

“I personally feel like that’s the role, like the role of media is accountability, to keep leaders accountable and companies, so that’s really what we’re going for… Not only do we have a media monopoly in New Brunswick, but the family that owns that monopoly also owns a really big part of the industrial base. That’s pretty much unprecedented in what we call the developed world. The company that’s supposed to bring accountability to those companies, they’re the same. It’s a really big conflict and a really big problem in our democracy.”

Allard describes herself as an optimist but concedes “grassroots” projects alone won’t fix the media monopoly in N. B.

The Brief is currently circulated in coffe shops, on campuses and other community outlets.  It's a tool to draw people to the website.  Photo by Tammy Murray
The Brief is currently circulated in coffee shops, on campuses and other community outlets. It's a tool to draw people to the website. Photo by Tammy Murray

“We need to have some legislation around media concentration, there’s some of that legislation pretty much everywhere except for here, from what I understand.”

See the NB Media Co-op website here:

Twas the night before Christmas

When Ron’s youngest daughter Taffara brought Savannah into the world a great many things changed in our lives. In 2008 we were blessed to have our first Christmas with her. A new baby gave rise to a new tradition in the family, one I brought from my past.

The Murray family share their new Christmas tradition. Featured in my story are my husband Ron Murray, his daughters Connie and Taffara, son-in-law Kenny, grandchildren Corey, Kyle and baby Savannah, family friend, Zac and me, Tammy.

I hope you enjoy this story of our Christmas past. Happy Holidays to all.