After 15-year-old Mitchell Slater took his own life in May, his family needed a way to remember him. Over time, it became clear there was only one real option.
“Mitchell wore camo all the time,” his mother, Rachel Slater, said.
“Like, seriously, every single pair of pants he had were camo,” she added. “I was always like ‘Can you take those off so I can wash them please? Your teachers are going to think I don’t wash your clothes.’
“But he just had so many pairs, I didn’t even realize he was wearing different pairs every day.”
The 15-year-old Burnsview student committed suicide in May of this year. Described as industrious, enthusiastic, caring and fun-loving by his grandmother, Sharon Dobin, the young man was well-liked by his fellow students.
“The school wrote me this big huge scroll,” Slater said. For a week or two, the scroll hung in the school library, and students could write their memories of Mitchell on it.
“Every single kid wrote: you were always smiling,” Slater said. “You were always smiling. And I just didn’t realize he impacted all those other people that way.”
But, Mitchell’s aunt Carrie Stewart said, he was a private person.
“Mitchell camouflaged his unhappiness, his depression. Everything,” she said. “That’s what everybody does, right? They hide it.”
Mitchell called his mother before he took his own life.
“He didn’t say it was this or it was that,” Slater said about the reason he committed suicide. “Nobody had any idea he was unhappy in anyway. Nobody.”
“We just really had no clue what was going on in his head,” she continued. “None at all.”
The family wants to change that for others in the community.
“We had decided a long time ago that we wanted to do something in his name,” Slater said.
The intent was to do something to spread awareness, and not just for “people who might see or know someone who has a mental illness. But even just you, yourself,” Slater said. “Just knowing if there’s something not right that maybe you should speak out, and it’s okay to speak out.”
The idea of wearing camouflage to spread awareness didn’t come right away.
It started with the camo baseball caps the family handed out at Mitchell’s funeral. The family would wear them, and send pictures to each other over Snapchat and Instagram.
“Then, this one day I decided to myself … I’m at least going to wear camo on Friday,” Slater said. “If that’s the only day I can wear it, I’m going to make sure I can wear camo on Friday.”
She sent a photo to her boyfriend, with the caption “Camo Friday.” He sent one back with the same caption.
“Later I said, ‘Why did you wear camo?’,” Slater said. “And he said, ‘Because I decided I’m going to wear camo every Friday.’”
It became a hashtag within the family, and soon spread to social media.
So far, the campaign has seen a positive response. Slater said schools and sports programs are wanting to participate, and many people are now sharing their own stories with the family.
“Everybody know somebody,” Slater said.
“Or them, themselves.”
The Camo Friday idea “was something that just kind of mushroomed,” Dobin said. “It took a life of its own. It wasn’t something that was planned and organized.”
Soon, the family hopes to start a foundation in Mitchell’s name, bringing in their Camo Friday campaign to continue to spread awareness.
“It has just fallen together in hopes that someone else can be helped,” Dobin said. “That people are aware that there [are] struggles and sufferings out there.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, there are places to go for help:
- Kids Help Phone, 1-800-668-6868
- Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC, 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
- Deltassist, 604-594-3455 or 9097 120th Street