‘An angel that walks among us’: Arthur woman embodies power of one

ARTHUR – Steven Hutchison died in 2013 by taking his own life.

His mother, Myrna Hutchison, and his friends, united in the seemingly endless sorrow and questions suicide leaves behind, lost little time in creating #GetInTouchForHutch, an Arthur-based organization raising awareness about suicide by encouraging discussion and raising funds to support mental health programs.

It’s been a long journey for Myrna, who has managed to pull from tribulation and years of emotional aftershocks, hope and something positive.

Her leading work in the community—raising funds for suicide awareness training and advocacy for youth mental health, and having open conversations about mental health struggles—haven’t gone unnoticed by Here4Hope.

The Wellington-based life promotion and suicide prevention project awarded Hutchison this year with the Neil Dunsmore Here4Hope Power of One Award.

“Myrna has shared her story but also herself with the community, becoming an active leader and advocate for suicide prevention,” Here4Hope suicide prevention initiative manager Cecilia Marie Roberts said.

The work hasn’t been easy, Myrna told the Advertiser.

“There are days that advocacy work is difficult and triggering, without a doubt,” she said.

“Our community has experienced many losses from suicide and even if we haven’t been involved in providing support in some way, just knowing about that takes us right back.”

But in the eight years since launching the organization, conversations around suicide are slowly evolving.

“When we started, no one wanted to say the word ‘suicide,’ no one wanted to talk to us about what we wanted to share,” said Myrna.

Even in the Hutchison family, suicide wasn’t a topic on their radar prior to the loss of Steven.

“As a parent, I’m not sure I would have been well prepared to have that conversation,” she admits.

“We knew we had to do something to try to stop this from happening to other friend groups and to other families so that they didn’t have to go through the exact same thing that we did.”

The driving force behind Myrna’s work is to normalize conversations about mental health and to de-stigmatize mental health struggles so those reaching out for help feel comfortable doing so and are well received.

“Our main goal is to incorporate these conversations into our everyday so that they’re easier to have and no one has to think, ‘oh my gosh, I am infringing on that taboo subject.’

“Mental health concerns are often stigmatized … we’ve got to remove that wall of stigma; health is health, whether it’s physical, mental [or] emotional,” Myrna said.

She wants people not to wait for someone to ask for help and instead for people to ask others how they’re doing and incorporate the practice into everyday life.

“We didn’t have the chance to try to help Steven through whatever it was that he was experiencing at that time,” she said.

Hutchison said she had no idea of what he was going through—the young man standing before her, her own son, and yet so unknown.

She will never have the closure of knowing.

“Why couldn’t he just say ‘I need help’ … It feels so easy to be able to say that after the fact,” Hutchison said of the many unanswered questions left in the wake of Steven’s life.

“We miss him immensely, we push forward with this work to honour him and his memory.”

Although her work feels halted by the pandemic, she’s reminded in talking to others about the ongoing behind-the-scenes work to keep the conversation alive, possibly made even more important by the loneliness and isolation many are experiencing from the pandemic.

“We’re constantly responding to messages that come in or outreach calls that may come our way,” she said. “When we lost our son to suicide, he didn’t reach out to tell us where he was at or how he was feeling.

“So, being able to connect with people who are reaching out for that help is so very meaningful.”

Centre Wellington councillor Neil Dunsmore, whose name the award bears after he trekked 500km to Ottawa last year raising $27,000 for the Cody Shepperd Project, said the award could “very easily be named the Myrna Hutchison Power of One Award.

“I’m in awe of her giving spirit, and I’m in awe of her energy,” said Dunsmore.

“Without Myrna Hutchison and without the other organizations in the community that raise the awareness and the funds that they raise, we’d be in a real serious crisis.”

Dunsmore added, “She’s just an angel that walks among us … I have the utmost admiration and respect [for her].”

Myrna said the award is a good reminder of the power one person can have to “impact another person’s life in a very positive way.

“Sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit to acknowledge that in our day-to-day interactions.”