Written by Crileidy Liriano of Toronto, ON

Matthew Jean-Leger, 24, took his life five years ago. His sister Woodney Pierre found him one morning in his room when she went to go get him for breakfast. Matthew was an employed, vibrant, life-of-the-party young man in a successful band, Five Aces, that was getting ready to release their first album that year, Dirty Funk.

His signs of mental health problems were not obvious. “We thought his oversleeping was because he was trying to catch up on sleep from work and with his band, but he was actually isolating himself,” says Woodney. “It felt like he was going through a phase so we didn’t think anything of it.” Woodney recently sat down with long-time friend and senior editor of LIM, Crileidy Liriano, to discuss Matthew’s story.

Did Matthew show any signs of mental health issues?

At the time, no. But looking back we were able to see a few symptoms. He was a bit moody. Noticing he was a bit down, my mom decided to send him on a trip, hoping that the change of scenery would give him a fresh start and perspective.

Did he express why he was down?

No, he didn’t. When we asked him, he would say he was fine and would get annoyed when we would ask.

How did the situation affect you?

I ended up suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and clinical depression. It affected me at work and my day-to-day relationships. I went through serious mood swings, isolating myself, panic attacks and insomnia. Within the first week of his passing I went from a size 6 to a size 0 and my hair fell out! I couldn’t do daily simple tasks anymore. I didn’t realize it was because I was suffering with PTSD and depression.

Did it affect your relationship with your family?

It did at first. We did a bit of counselling, but then stopped. Everyone processed it individually, but now it has allowed us to try to grow even stronger together. We are still processing it, and we will never forget what happened.

It’s important to talk to others about it, because although someone may seem happy they may be battling some form of mental health issue.

Some suffer in silence and give others no reason to suspect, while others may show signs. Either way there’s a stigma around the topic but it should be discussed. Unfortunately, it’s easy to dismiss someone who may be suffering with any form of it.

What’s the Matty Jae Youth Foundation?

I founded this organization after his passing. I wanted to encompass who I thought he was – the arts because he was an artist, mentorship because he loved looking out for others, and mental health by sharing his story and creating a platform where people are able to have a conversation about it. Every year on his birthday we host a fundraiser to raise mental health awareness. We have a partnership with Evergreen, which is part of the Yonge Street Mission, Viva Haiti, and Stepstones for Youth, which deals with young girls in the foster care system. This event has been part of my family’s healing process as we get to celebrate his life and anyone who may have been affected directly or indirectly with any form of mental health and/or suicide.

Do you have any advice for teens or young adults who may be suffering with mental health?

The important part is to reach out to someone. It may seem like the hardest thing, but whether it’s a friend, church or hotline, I encourage you to take that step. If you’re the individual who someone approaches, it’s important to not dismiss that person and to take time to listen to him or her. See if there’s external help you can direct them to. Reach out and shine your light!

The Matty Jae Youth Foundation will have its fifth annual celebration April 30, 2017 at Posh Supper Club in Toronto. There will be a live band, a DJ, special performances, a photo booth and lots of fun. For more information, visit www.mattyjaeyouth.com.

∗If you are suffering with mental health please speak to your family physician to get help.