WARNING: This story contains distressing details and discusses suicide:
The image of Ashtyn Prosser throwing his grad cap in the air at Jackson Park in Windsor, Ont., park is one of the more challenging pictures for Kim Prosser to view.
“All this potential is just gone. The start of adulthood and he never made it there,” she said, sitting on a bench in Wheatley, Ont.
Her son was a month away from his 20th birthday when he died by suicide.
“What a dynamic, amazing person to be around,” she said, further describing him as funny, brilliant, amazing and colourful.
As Prosser tells her story, three birds tattooed onto her forearm peek out from underneath her sweater. Ashtyn loved to draw, and this past Christmas she agreed to get matching tattoos, along with her oldest son.
It’s a permanent memory that makes her think of him with his “crazy awesome smile.”
Man charged with selling deadly substance
Ashtyn’s life was cut short when he allegedly bought a lethal substance off the internet from a 57-year-old Toronto-area man.
Police allege Kenneth Law operated websites selling sodium nitrite and other suicide paraphernalia from late 2020 to this past spring, mailing 1,200 packages to 40 countries, including 160 to Canadian addresses.
Law faces 14 counts of counselling or aiding suicide in Ontario.
B.C. RCMP told CBC News this week they had opened “at least six investigations” related to an unspecified number of victims across Ontario. Calgary police are also probing two sudden deaths for possible connections to Law.
According to a CBC tally, Law is suspected of being linked to more than 110 deaths worldwide, in countries such as the U.S., Britain, Ireland, Italy and New Zealand.
Law is set for another court appearance on Friday. He remains in custody and has denied all allegations against him.
Prosser admits there’s a number of ways she could feel about someone allegedly selling her child poison, but ultimately has decided it’s not what matters.
What matters, she said, is having better resources in the province that would have prevented her son from wanting to purchase the drug in the first place.
“Having [better] resources out there, [Ashtyn] wouldn’t have gotten to a point of looking for where he could get a substance from or how he could get access if he wasn’t struggling for years.”
Pandemic hard on student’s mental health
Prosser said that once classes went online during the pandemic, Ashytn’s behaviours started to change. His marks drastically declined and he became more isolated.
“To go from straight A’s to struggling to graduate is a night and day difference,” she said.
He was placed on two medications over the phone while in high school, never once seeing a mental health profession in person.
Despite academic challenges in his last year, he was accepted to a university in Toronto. But after a few months, the isolation became too hard and he eventually dropped out, later moving to Thunder Bay, Ont.
Prosser said the isolation continued and then last summer, Ashtyn tried to take his life twice in the span of 10 days.
The director of the student counselling centre at the University of Windsor said the pandemic had a “profound impact” on students’ mental health.
“We would see an increase in demand for services in terms of just feeling lonely, isolation, anxiety. Depression often times goes hand in hand with all of that as well,” said Mohsan Beg, a licensed clinical psychologist.
Beg said students lost a lot of coping mechanisms like socializing with friends, going to the gym and visiting public establishments, and instead replaced them with a “fear mindset.”
“We gave the message for two years that other human beings are dangerous,” said Beg.
Lack of resources
Once Ashtyn was discharged from hospital, his mom said, there was a screening process to see if doctors could pinpoint a diagnosis, but no support further than that.
She said her son would send emails to organizations in Thunder Bay that might be able to help, but heard nothing back.
“Months later [he would] tell me, ‘Hey, this place messaged me and they lost their doctor, so they don’t have anyone running the program now.’ Everything was a wait.”
She said her parents eventually paid for a few sessions with a therapist out of pocket, but she wasn’t able to maintain that help financially.
Ashtyn was put on a different medication, and they were working on building and maintaining a healthy routine daily. She said she saw him at Christmas and he appeared to be doing better.
On March 30, she received the call that he had died.
Healing easier with a purpose
Now living in Wheatley on Lake Erie, Prosser said there have been plenty of dark days following the death of her son.
“I have spent hours and hours on this beach, trying to find a way to heal.”
She’s decided to start a foundation in her son’s memory that will assist in mental health recovery and healing, focusing on holistic medicine such as reflexology, traumatic incident reduction therapy and mentorship programs.
She’s holding a fundraiser on Saturday that will coincide with National Suicide Prevention Month.
“This fundraiser is to keep me and my son connected,” and, if at all possible, “help somebody else in that situation.”
If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:
This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.