The news was devastating for anyone who knew Luke Richardson and his family: Last November, his daughter Daron took her own life at the age of 14.
But for Todd and Caroline Marchant, it hit even closer to home.
The Marchants became very close with Luke, wife Stephanie and the rest of the Richardson family when Todd and Luke were teammates for seven seasons in Edmonton and two more in Columbus. The Richardsons’ oldest daughter Morgan was a flower girl in the Marchants’ wedding, and Caroline had even helped coach a hockey team Daron played on for a season in Columbus. For awhile, the two families lived close enough to each other that, “I could look out our window and see their house,” Todd says.
Today the Marchants have four kids of their own, and their oldest daughter will turn 13 next summer.
“Steph and Luke are tremendous people and their kids were always good kids,” Marchant says. “When you see something happen, it’s puzzling. It just didn’t seem like there was any trouble from the outside, but obviously there was from the inside.”
Richardson played 21 seasons in the NHL, the last two with the Ottawa Senators, where he is currently an assistant coach. Since Daron’s death, the Senators community has been extremely supportive in helping to increase awareness of youth mental health and suicide through the Do It For Daron (D.I.F.D.) initiative.
"We need to change the culture of this topic and make it okay to speak about mental health and suicide," Richardson said at a news conference at Scotiabank Place introducing the D.I.F.D. program. "We want to inspire conversations ... reach out to someone, be it a friend, a family member or a student. Let them know they can speak with you about how they are feeling. Let them know that you will be there for them.”
The Richardsons’ hope is to increase awareness about an epidemic that has grown to an alarming proportion. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for 15 to 24-year-olds, according to the World Health Organization. More children and young adults die from suicide each year than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke and chronic lung disease combined.
"Our own lack of knowledge (about the subject) has put us in this path of disbelief, sorrow and despair," Richardson said. "It is filled with never-to-be answered questions and pain.
"We have to make an effort. We have to make a difference. We have too much to lose."
|Special D.I.F.D. merchandise sold at Do It For Daron Youth Mental Health Awareness Night included purple wristbands (Daron's favorite color). Caroline Marchant wears one today. |
D.I.F.D. held a Purple Pledge Day on Feb. 8, which would have been Daron's 15th birthday. School groups, businesses and other organizations showed their support by wearing purple, Daron’s favorite color, on that day. And D.I.F.D. plans to make it an annual campaign to raise money for the Daron Richardson Fund, established by the Royal Ottawa Foundation for Mental Health that targets an early identification and intervention program for youth mental illness and suicide. The Richardsons made a personal donation of $100,000, which was matched by Senators Sports & Entertainment and the Sens Foundation, and more than 500 donors have made contributions.
The Senators and the Sens Foundation also held a Do It For Daron Youth Mental Health Awareness Night on February 26 when the Philadelphia Flyers (one of Luke’s former teams) visited Scotiabank Place. On that night, players on both teams wore purple heart D.I.F.D. stickers on their helmets. Special D.I.F.D. merchandise was sold throughout the arena, including 500 "mystery pucks" autographed by every Senators and Flyers player and purple wristbands labeled Do It for Daron.
“The more we can educate both young people and adults and the more you keep the lines of communication open the more we can prevent something like this happening again." - Todd Marchant
Caroline Marchant still wears one of those bracelets, just part of her efforts to make sure Daron’s suicide can promote discussion of this difficult subject.
“We need to talk about it because we need to educate kids,” says Caroline, who attended Daron’s funeral in November. “Steph’s message to me was just, ‘Please get the awareness out. That’s how you can help. I need you to get the word out.’
“I think if we do it the right way, we can get the message out to everybody. It shouldn’t be a scary message.”
Todd was able to speak with Luke when the Ducks played in Ottawa in January, and it inspired him to sit down and talk with his own kids when he got back from the road.
“I said, ‘You may think that if you did something wrong that your mom or dad is going to be mad at you. But you know what? We’ll work it out. We’ll figure it out,” Marchant says. “’Come to us when you have a problem’”
|“We need to talk about it because we need to educate kids,” says Caroline Marchant. “Steph’s message to me was just, ‘Please get the awareness out. That’s how you can help. I need you to get the word out.’" |
The Marchants and the Anaheim Ducks are doing even more locally to help ensure this doesn’t happen to more teenagers and young adults. They have lent support to the Orange County-based With Hope, the Amber Craig Memorial Foundation. Amber Craig was a student and standout soccer goalie who took her life in May of 2005 at the age of 14.
The With Hope Foundation works with local schools on suicide prevention through education, including providing speakers and materials as well as school and community gatekeeper training and general suicide education. For more information or to make a donation, visit www.withhopefoundation.org
“The more we can educate both young people and adults and the more you keep the lines of communication open,” Marchant says, “the more we can prevent something like this happening again."