The family of a young transgender teenager who took his own life is calling on the Nova Scotia government to do more to address what they’re calling a suicide crisis in Cape Breton.
Justin Newell was only 13 years old when he died on June 3.
“Our house is missing a complete piece of who we are,” says Stephanie Melski, Justin’s aunt. “We are trying to come up with a new normal and it's been difficult.”
Justin fought back publicly against bullies by doing presentations at school on transgender education. He hoped it would show his peers what he was going through and that it’s OK to be different.
"They would tell him to go kill himself and go shoot yourself in the face," says Melski. “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.”
Melski says just a week before his death, Justin came to her about one of his friends who was thinking about suicide. Justin was able to talk him out of it.
“Justin knew those words were out there. We had no idea he was being told them himself, but he was telling others how to get around them and he just couldn't get around them himself, which is awful,” Melski says.
Melski’s husband had a conversation with Justin at dinner the night he died. They talked about his plans for summer and what he was looking forward to. He was found dead just a few hours later.
Justin was the third young person in the Cape Breton Victoria Regional School Board to take their own life in just six months. That prompted the provincial government to enlist the help of mental health expert Dr. Stan Kutcher, who is heading to Cape Breton Monday to speak with families and schools in the area.
Melski believes more can be done.
“After the first one, it was a tragedy. Now we’re at three, it's definitely a crisis,” she says. “It's something we need help with and I think it's great we're getting some help to be focused on it.”
Melski says the family will march in the Pride Parade in August, and will keep Justin’s memory alive by continuing to fight for transgender rights.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Kyle Moore.