Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Lending a hand for suicide prevention: An interview with Marc Kajouji

Nadia Kajouji, left, is embraced by her father,
Mohamed Kajouji, sitting right. (Credit: Marc
In 2008, tragedy struck Marc Kajouji and his family: his sister, Nadia Kajouji, died by suicide while she was away at Carleton University. Nadia was grappling with a number of personal issues: a devastating break up with her long-time boyfriend, then another failed romantic relationship. She was also struggling to deal with an unplanned pregnancy and a miscarriage, causing  her to fall into a downward spiral of insomnia, severe depression, and postpartum mood disorder. To make matters even worse, she was manipulated into ending her own life by an online predator, William Melchert-Dinkel, who pretended to be a suicidal female nurse sympathizing with people who were severely depressed. Now, Marc works for Your Life Counts (YLC), an online suicide prevention organization. He wants to ensure that nobody else has to go through what Nadia experienced.
1. When did you become an Ambassador for YLC, and what makes YLC unique in their approach, aside from the fact that it is an online suicide prevention service?

Marc Kajouji (MK): Around the summer of 2009. YLC is an online service. Rory Butler [the founder and CEO of YLC] also helped out with the investigation for Nadia, working with Sergeant Jaswal, who was investigating. Rory contacted me directly through the police as opposed to on Facebook, which I think really speaks to his professionalism.

2. What do your duties as a YLC Ambassador include?

MK: There are no specific duties--I do anything I can to help, whether it's fundraising, raising awareness, or just understanding someone who is having a rough time.

3. You also serve on YLC's Board of Directors. When did you take on this role, and what do your duties include?

MK: I took on this role about six months ago. Right now, we are trying to raise money for the Gift of Life campaign. Our goal is to raise $3 million to help continue providing services, as YLC receives no government funding.

4. How does YLC ensure that people who are struggling with depression/suicide get help right away?

MK: It's an ongoing challenge, because we don't have a national strategy. Bill C-300 needs to be passed. It goes beyond mental health--the main focus is better government funding and strategy.

5. What's your response to people who don't take the issues of depression and suicide seriously?

MK: You can't force people to understand depression/suicide. I try to focus on the people who can help, not the negative.

6. How do you think post-secondary institutions could better support mental health?

MK: It all goes back to Bill C-300, which would provide a clear mental health strategy. Bill C-300 would also assist schools in dealing with mental health. 
I would like to thank Marc Kajouji for taking the time to discuss his work with YLC, and for working towards suicide prevention.
YLC has qualified health care professionals who have a strong background in social work volunteering their time to help people who are at risk of dying by suicide. YLC is always in need of donations to continue their work. To learn more information on how you can donate, please visit their website: 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Advocating for immigrant rights in Canada: An interview with Leila Heidari

Photo of Leila Heidari's mother, Khadijeh, a day after she had
taken a bad fall on June 4, 2013. (Credits: Leila Heidari/Make
it Right for Khadijeh Facebook page.)
For over 20 years, Leila Heidari has had to deal with Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) denying permanent Canadian status to her 92-year-old mother, Khadijeh, who is also known as "Essie." After years of having her concerns ignored by CIC and local Members of Parliament (MPs), Leila Heidari launched a petition telling CIC to grant permanent Canadian status to Khadijeh. Here, Leila Heidari provides an update regarding Khadijeh's circumstances. At the time of this writing, Khadijeh still hasn't been granted permanent Canadian status.
1. What kind of a treatment facility was Khadijeh taken into in November 2013?

Leila Heidari (LH): Khadijeh is in a multi-care facility for the elderly. It has a nursing home, various hospitals and clinics, and a research centre. Khadijeh is being cared for at the research facility. She is being treated for a massive head injury that she developed after taking a bad fall in June 2013. She is also being treated for an ear infection that she developed in November 2013. Both the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and I cover the housing costs--the ODSP pays $1,000 a month, and I pay $250 a month. The treatment is covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP).

2. What condition (related to Khadijeh's head injury) have they diagnosed her with?

LH: I think Khadijeh has dementia, but they don't know what she has. The treatment is ongoing. When they find out what's wrong with her, she will be sent to a nursing home.

3. How did the treatment facility finally allow your mother to get help?

LH: The ODSP suggested that I contact the facility to get help for Khadijeh. My mother was accepted in early October 2013. For the past 10 years, I have been in touch with ODSP. In spring 2012, ODSP cut health benefits. Before that, Khadijeh received partial health coverage from Interim Health in 1995 when she came to Ontario. The only time Khadijeh received full health coverage was from 1993--1995, when she first resided in Quebec, and she was covered through their provincial health care system.

4. What did you have to go through before finding the facility?

LH: We have been ignored by CIC and local MPs. A week after I had launched my petition, a woman from CIC contacted me, saying that she would like to meet me. A week later, she never shows up for our meeting. We were also turned away by various clinics before finding the facility that is currently providing care for her. I tried calling a clinic in Scarborough, but they were only open from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My mother had a gash in her head which was bleeding, but I could not take her to emergency because she doesn't have permanent Canadian status.

In addition, Khadijeh only received temporary residency on June 21, 2013, and didn't start receiving OHIP until September 21, 2013. While I'm grateful that she is now receiving help, I'm upset that it's taken so long. It's not just about my family either--I'm worried about the people who are in a similar situation. What if someone doesn't have Canadian citizenship, and that person is alone with no access to social media and he or she develops a chronic disease? What is that person supposed to do?

5. How has this situation taken a toll on your family?
LH: We are struggling financially, emotionally, and every other way that you can think of. I'm worried about my mother, and I'm struggling to take care of my 19-year-old daughter who has severe autism. My daughter is in diapers and cannot speak, and she had to be hospitalized last year because of her autism--she was screaming all the time and banging her head against the wall. I could not see my daughter because I was trying to take care of my mother, so my husband had to look after our daughter. I could not work, because I was trying to look after my mother, which was very hard.

I would like to thank Leila Heidari for sharing her story, and for advocating for better treatment of immigrants in Canada.