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Teen who lost both parents to mental health issues promised audience with Prime Minister

Noah Irvine had a meeting last week with the Office of the Prime Minister and was promised a September meeting with Canada's minister of Health
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Noah Irvine is fighting to end the stigma surrounding mental illness in Canada, and for a national suicide prevention plan. Rob O'Flanagan/GuelphToday

A Guelph teenager who wrote letters to every MP in Canada says today’s federal cabinet shuffle is not an excuse to reschedule a promised a September meeting with the minister of Health to speak about the need for a national strategy to prevent suicide.

Noah Irvine said today he expects incoming Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor to honour a commitment made to him that he would be met personally by the minister next month in Ottawa.

Irvine spoke by phone to outgoing minister Jane Philpott after media reports last week recounted his letter-siting effort after losing his 24-year-old mother to suicide when he was five years old and the 2015 death of his 40-year-old father to mental illness.

“When I talked with Ms. Philpott, she asked me to meet with her to discuss mental health issues when the House of Commons sits in September. Mental health matters should not be held up by a cabinet shuffle,” said Irvine.

Irvine said he will be contacting Petitpas Taylor’s office to set up a September appointment.

Last Monday, GuelphToday published an interview with Irvine in which he expressed his displeasure that writing to 338 MPs across Canada resulted in only 40 replies.

By 7:30 a.m. the next morning, the Office of the Prime Minister contacted Guelph MP Lloyd Longfield to offer the teen a meeting while he was in Ottawa.

“That meeting lasted an hour and a half and I think I really startled them with my level of knowledge on this and my level of maturity,” said Irvine.

“They said Prime Minister Trudeau is supposed to get in touch with me directly, which I would like. I would like to discus my ideas with him,” he added.

After today’s cabinet shuffle, Philpott becomes the minister of Indigenous Services, Seamus O’Regan assumes the role of Veteran’s Affairs and Carolyn Bennett moves from Indigenous and Northern Affairs to head the Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs.

Kent Hehr moves from Veteran’s Affairs to minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities and Carla Qualtrough becomes minister of Public Services and Procurement.

Judy Foote, formerly Public Services and Procurement minister, announced last week she is stepping down from cabinet, which necessitated the shuffle.

Irvine said he understands creating a national strategy for suicide prevention will take time.

“It’s not going to be done in one day, I am not naive to think this is going to be easy. It’s not. This is going to take a long time to really fix the system because it’s been broken for decades,” he said.

Media reports of Irvine’s letter-writing campaign has resulted in some additional responses from MPs, cabinet ministers and party leaders.

Irvine said Philpott reached him by phone and he was eventually contacted by interim NDP leader Thomas Mulcair.

“When the media is involved, it definitely becomes an issue for the leaders,” said Irvine.

Although Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer has not yet responded to his letters, other members of the party have.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, has not yet responded.

“So I can see this isn’t an issue the Greens care about. They can say they do, but until they respond, I don’t think so,” said Irvine.

The teen has not heard back from the letters sent to NDP leader hopefuls Charlie Angus and Niki Ashton.

Vying for party leadership is no excuse, said Irvine.

“Anyone who says I’m busy? Michael Chong was in the middle of a leadership race and he still met with me and had coffee with me. Tell me how busy you are, because he was pretty busy,” he said.

Irvine said he is pleased at how media reports of his letter-writing campaign has sparked a dialogue, getting people to talk about mental health and suicide.

At the same time, Irvine feels the media can do more to prevent suicide and should be involved in any national strategy.

“Often, when celebrities die (by suicide) it’s glorified and it’s talked about a lot. When they talk about it, it may inspire people to do what a celebrity did. There’s often no help lines at the bottom of those screens when they are doing the talks on how these celebrities died — and that’s a problem,” said Irvine.

His parents, said Irvine, lived with the stigma of mental illness and the teen hopes furthering discussion on the matter will eventually help lift that stigma.

“I’m not ashamed of how they died, I am ashamed that our country let them die. That is what I am ashamed of,” he said.