For World Suicide Prevention Day, a story of resilience

Athlete Jean-Paul Bedard reminds us that sharing positive stories can change mindsets.


For World Suicide Prevention Day, a story of resilience

Athlete Jean-Paul Bedard reminds us that sharing positive stories can change mindsets.


If you want to understand resilience, Jean-Paul Bedard is a perfect case study.

With a decades-long history of addiction and mental health issues, he’s faced suicidal thoughts and lived with the trauma of abuse. Now a celebrated athlete and author, he’s using his story to help others and subvert the myths about how people adapt to crisis. Bedard says the way we think about resilience is wrong.

Resilience, he says “has nothing to do with bouncing back or being bulletproof,” dismissing the two most common analogies. It’s not a personality trait, but the product of work and commitment. Even the most outwardly resilient people often fail to see the quality in themselves, meaning that our own reserves of strength might only come to light in relation to others. Resilience depends on community and the stories we share.

Bedard’s trauma started at an early age with violence in his family home. At age nine, he says, he was sexually assaulted by a hockey coach, then again by two men when he was 12. His life went off the rails when he turned to drugs and attempted suicide.

Although Bedard was struggling, he reached out for help and sought counselling.

When he replaced his addiction with the rush of endorphins, he found success in elite athletics, running multiple marathons. Soon, he was doing outreach, sharing his story with people who approached him after his talks to tell him how inspirational he was.

“People saw me as this person who’d figured it out,” he recalls. “But I’d go home and cry. I’d feel alone, like a fraud.”

He couldn’t understand the gulf between what he felt and what people saw in him, so he started interviewing others. He spoke with parents who lost children to gun violence, people who lived through genocide and survivors of sexual abuse. There was one common thread: like Bedard, no one recognized resilience in themselves.

Bedard discovered that you don’t have to feel like a hero in order to get better.

We need to tell stories about recovery from trauma, and I’m telling this one to mark World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10. Hearing stories of resilience can be contagious—you can find more on Unsinkable, a new story-sharing project from Olympian Silken Laumann. They can help avert tragedy.

With waves of mental health crises crashing down in Canada, stories of resilience like Bedard’s remind those struggling that there is help and hope. What’s more, they can help prime your brain to focus on the good. Reflecting on uplifting stories and experiences helps us identify and concentrate more on positive thoughts.

If you’re spiraling, it’s understandable to see Bedard as a hero. But he doesn’t see himself that way. He goes to 12-step meetings to curb his addiction every week and sees a counsellor for PTSD; he runs for hours every morning to keep his mind in check and attends church, he says, “for my soul.”

His resilience is remade anew every day. Everyone struggling has that potential. No one’s story has to end in tragedy. That message can save lives, and we need to share it more.

Mental health issues are treatable and therefore suicide is preventable. If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available. Reach out to Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566.

Craig Kielburger (right) and Marc Kielburger.
Craig Kielburger (right) and Marc Kielburger.
Craig Kielburger

Craig Kielburger is co-founder of the WE Movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.