OTTAWA—Conservative Sen. Denise Batters marked 10 years in her post on Wednesday — the same day the annual campaign to encourage people to speak out about mental health issues took over her social media feeds.
There’s a bittersweet connection for her between the two.
Her appointment to the Senate in 2013 came five years after her husband Dave Batters decided not to run for re-election as a member of Parliament, citing anxiety and depression. He died by suicide the next year.
Batters became an advocate for increased supports for those struggling with mental health issues. When she was appointed as a senator for Saskatchewan by then-prime minister Stephen Harper, she pledged to continue on that path.
And that includes speaking out against something she says is happening far too often: being attacked for only having her job because of the way her husband died.
Batters said it is fair game to come after her political positions — she’s a partisan, and a proud one.
But when “the most painful moment” of her life is weaponized, it crosses a line — and it’s bigger than just her.
“What they’re doing is they’re just choosing to attack me on something that they think will hurt me the most,” she said.
“But what they’re not evaluating is the fact of the larger issue here.”
People are using their public voice to “shame those people that are left behind by suicide, the families, survivors of suicide and perpetuate stigma around mental illness,” Batters said.
“They’re basically putting it out there that this is something to be ashamed of, being the loved one of someone who has died.”
The most recent incident for Batters happened at the end of last month.
She had posted a message on Twitter sharing a story about airlines and COVID-19-related government funding.
There were many critical replies, and among them this one:
“You have your appointment because your husband died by his own hand. You weren’t elected. You didn’t campaign. You didn’t earn it.”
The message hit hard, given the holidays is a time where her husband’s loss is felt keenly, Batters said.
So, while sometimes she ignores what she calls the trolls, this time she pushed back, as the poster appeared to be a real person, with rival political connections in her home province.
Ultimately, an apology was delivered.
Their comments were “abhorrent,” the user said in a note to Batters, and that they were “wrong to attack and hurt you and your family. I crossed a line I never believed I would.”
The Star reached out to the poster to see if they would discuss the incident, but did not receive a reply. The tweets and the apology — seen as screenshots by the Star — were subsequently deleted.
If Canadians are serious about changing the national debate around mental health — and addressing the fact 4,000 people die by suicide a year — people need to think about the implications of their words, Batters said.
“One of the ways that we get down that path is by treating people with a little bit more compassion and not continuing to shame.”
If you are having suicidal thoughts, there is help. The Canada Suicide Prevention Service can be reached at 1-833-456-4566 24-hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year or online at www.crisisservicecanada.ca. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.
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