Warning: This story contains details relating to rape and suicide that may be difficult for some readers.
Jenifer Brousseau was among the first callers to Kids Help Phone when the service launched in May of 1989. A young girl growing up in the small Northern Ontario community of Serpent River, she called regularly — alone or with friends — just to talk about what was on her mind.
When the day came that Jenifer desperately needed Kids Help Phone, she called knowing someone would be on the other end.
At just 14, Jenifer had been raped by a family friend. Struggling with feelings of shame, finding herself a victim of bullying at school over the incident and not receiving any support from the local police, she decided to end her own life. One day, as she sat alone in her bedroom while her parents were out shopping, she swallowed a handful of pills. Then she picked up the phone.
“I knew if I kept taking the pills I would die, but the Kids Help Phone counsellor talked me off a ledge,” says Jenifer. “She asked me to list people in my community I felt I could trust and encouraged me to call one of them right away for help.”
Jenifer contacted a family she had babysat for, who immediately came to her rescue and found her parents.
“The healing I received that day from Kids Help Phone has carried me through to the present,” she says.
Had I not contacted Kids Help Phone, I would have missed out on a really cool life.
Inspired by the strength and resilience that was instilled in her as a young teenager in crisis, for the past 25 years Jenifer has worked in suicide prevention for Indigenous communities. She is also a writer, singer, artist and co-host of APTN’s “Wild Archaeology,” which explores the archaeological record of the First Peoples of North America, and has written, produced and directed a play about a young Indigenous girl contemplating suicide. Called Beneath the Surface, the play recently toured across Canada. Its primary message, says Jenifer, is that “suicide is the choice you can’t take back.”
Today, Jenifer is also a proud ambassador for Kids Help Phone. Sharing her story to raise awareness of youth mental health and high suicide rates in Indigenous communities, she hopes to pass on the gift of hope and resilience that was given to her.
“Kids need to know that people care, that there’s someone out there who will listen,” she says. “My life path has been the result of my decision that day to call, and that’s why I’m so committed to giving back.”