Canada News

Get the latest new in Candada


Family of Winnipeg man urged him to get help for mental health struggles before his death

WARNING: This story contains discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm, see the end of this story for resources.

The family of a 29-year-old man who took his own life inside Winnipeg’s Waverley Grand Mosque last week are speaking up amid the devastating loss to address the stigma of mental illness — and to correct the record about the circumstances surrounding his death.

Abdul-Hamid Al-Sheikh Omar died after self-immolating at the mosque last Saturday, on the eve of the Eid al-Adha religious holiday, his older brother told CBC News on Wednesday.

A statement issued by the Manitoba Islam Association shortly after the incident suggested the ongoing crisis in Gaza may have played a role in Abdul-Hamid’s suicide.

His brother, Ahmad, said that’s not accurate.

“I don’t know what made them think that he did that for Palestine. It has no connection to what is happening in Gaza,” he said. 

“This basically happened because of the years of him suffering from mental health.”

Ahmad said the family are from Syria. They mostly lived in the United Arab Emirates, and then for two years in Istanbul, before coming to Canada.

Ahmad said Abdul-Hamid experienced some mental health issues in Turkey. The family tried to seek out help after arriving in Canada from a family doctor, but Abdul-Hamid always resisted any treatment. 

Three men, a woman and a child posing for a picture.
‘Before we came to Canada, we started noticing that Abdul-Hamid’s behaviour started to shift away from reality,’ said his brother, Ahmad. (Submitted by Ahmad Al-Sheikh Omar)

“Before we came to Canada, we started noticing that Abdul-Hamid’s behaviour started to shift away from reality,” Ahmad said, adding that the health-care professionals who saw him told the family they couldn’t force treatment because he was an adult.

“As a family, we started noticing his extreme behaviour — whether extreme having fun, or extreme being super religious.… Day by day, we realize that he’s not able to even control his thoughts.” 

Ahmad said his brother suffered from delusions, claiming to be a prophet that Muslims believe will appear in the end times, and that he started to show severe symptoms of schizophrenia in the weeks leading to the incident.

They planned to take him back to the hospital after Eid al-Adha. 

‘Unthinkable and unimaginable’

Ahmad says that the last day before his death, there was nothing unusual in his brother’s behaviour. Abdul-Hamid bought pizza and had dinner with his family, and they all watched TV together. 

The next day, Abdul-Hamid went for a walk around noon, and ended up at the mosque, said Ahmad.

Witnesses who were at the mosque told Abdul-Hamid that before he set himself on fire, his brother gathered some people around him in the gym area and claimed to be a prophet, saying he was immortal.

He was rushed to hospital after the self-immolation but died several hours later, surrounded by family, said Ahmad.

A man
Ahmad Al-Sheikh Omar, seen here, says there was nothing unusual in his brother’s behaviour the day before his death. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Amro Aljundi, Abdul-Hamid’s cousin, said that while the 29-year-old was “seeing and hearing things that we did not,” he was a quiet and gentle person who never acted like he would harm himself or others.

“Every time somebody comes in, they’re like, ‘Hamid was such a nice person, such a kind guy,'” Aljundi said. “He was always thoughtful. Kids would run up to him and hug him because of how kind and loving he was.”

Abdul-Hamid was a religious young man who was kind and creative, his family says. He studied fine arts at the University of Manitoba, but his mental health caused him to leave school last year.

He was supposed to start university again next semester, with only three courses left before he was able to graduate.

Aljundi said Abdul-Hamid’s death is an eye-opener, and he urges people who are struggling with mental health issues to seek help and adding that the system needs to be more involved.

“Not in a million years would any of us have thought this would happen,” Aljundi said. “Something like that was unthinkable and unimaginable.”

Association apologizes for statement

The day after Abdul-Hamid’s death, the Manitoba Islamic Association issued a statement. It mourned the loss and urged the removal of barriers to accessing mental health resources, but also suggested the war in Gaza impacted his mental health.

On Tuesday, the association apologized for the statement, saying the wording contributed to “misconceptions and misunderstandings.”

A young man standing in front of a lake.
Abdul-Hamid ‘was such a nice person, such a kind guy,’ said his cousin. (Submitted by Ahmad Al-Sheikh Omar)

Ahmad said the Islamic association published the first statement without consulting the family. It led people to assume Abdul-Hamid’s actions were connected to the war in Gaza, leading to a misunderstanding across the whole community, he said.

“Emotions were high. They were rushed,” he said. “We believe it was an individual mistake and not from the board.

“It was unfortunate what happened in the first place, but it was a mistake. They came immediately and they corrected themselves and they showed us the real support.”

The Manitoba Islamic Association’s followup statement on Tuesday said Abdul-Hamid “suffered from significant mental health issues which ultimately led to his death.”

“Our community can learn much from his life. On the road to healing from this tragedy, may we as a community learn to destigmatize mental health issues.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm, here’s where to get help:

View original article here Source