© Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald
Charlottetown couple Darin and Kathleen Meek along with their daughter Taylor participate in the Walk So Kids Can Talk fundraiser at Confederation Landing Park in Charlottetown Sunday. The family saw approximately $20,000 raised for the Kid's Help Phone in memory of their other daughter Chalyse, who died more than two years ago after struggling with mental illness. Guardian photo by Mitch MacDonald
Darin Meek has seen the heavy toll burdened on teenagers struggling to cope with mental health issues.
It's something the Charlottetown father knows too well after having witnessed his daughter Chalyce suffer from anxiety which later matured into depression.
He said while Chalyce had been an honours student in junior high, she was gradually more and more affected by her struggles throughout high school.
About two-and-a-half years ago, Chalyce committed suicide at the age of 17.
"Our story is written unfortunately, but there are a lot of young people out there that still have the opportunity to look forward to another day," said Meek while at the Walk So Kids Can Talk Charlottetown fundraiser for Kids Help Phone on Sunday. "I think the best way for us to honour her memory is by letting people know that yes, you can come forward and talk about it.... We've seen the need because we've gone through it."
Meek, along with his wife Kathleen and other daughter Taylor came forward with their story a few weeks ago as a way to raise awareness for Kids Help Phone, which provides free, anonymous and confidential counseling for youth.
It was also a service Chalyce had found comfort in.
That was something Meek found out several years ago while attending the same walk with his daughters as an event sponsor.
"Which took me by surprise, we've always had a very open family relationship but I think it showed us the need for the service," he said. "Even though we're there as parents and talking to our children, they still have a void and need someone to speak to about other issues they're dealing with."
The walk was held in more than 25 communities across Canada on Sunday.
More than 300 Islanders were aware of the Meeks' story at the Charlottetown event, with many participants wearing shirts with text reading "Smiles for Chalyce" as they made the five kilometre trek along the city's boardwalk.
Kathleen said seeing the amount of support from the community, with much of the couple's co-workers, friends, neighbours and relatives at the event, was overwhelming.
"Our definition of a community has certainly expanded," she said. "It just feels like one solid community here today for a great cause."
Smiles for Chalyce was also the name of the family's walking team, which saw more than 160 members rally to raise approximately $20,000 in her memory.
Meek, who also spoke on behalf of Kids Help Phone, said the event altogether would likely raise an approximate $30,000.
Apart from participating in the walk, Taylor has also taken an extra step to encourage young Islanders to reach out to the service during tough times.
The Grade 11 Colonel Gray student began a school group called "Stop the Stigma," which aims to create awareness on mental health issues.
"You don't realize how many people it affects until you see how many people are coming out," she said. "Now, it's becoming more comfortable to talk about it (mental illness) so it's a lot more welcoming."
Meek also urged Sunday's crowd to save the Kids Help Phone number, 1-800-668-6868, into their phone and share it with those who may be struggling.
"A lot of the kids know the number but it's the parents that have to take that number, share it and say 'it's OK to reach out'," he said. "There's a lot of tough stories out there and that's OK. The important part is we reach out and learn how to deal with those stories for the sake of all our young people."