Not Your Usual Suspect...Natasha Dunbar
It seems unlikely that Natasha Dunbar ever saw herself as becoming an advocate for stronger legislation to end bullying in our society, particularly the online variety that has proliferated our world and created a toxic environment for many of our youth. The path to her unexpected advocacy came through great pain and immense cost: the loss of her beloved daughter Morgan, who took her own life in 2014.
Morgan was no different than many teenagers, says her mother, although she was the “quiet one” of the twin sisters in the Dunbar family. Bailey, her identical twin, is the effervescent kind of teenager, full of life and bubbling over with thoughts and ideas. Morgan was quieter and perhaps a bit more sensitive in nature, making her a vulnerable target for the bullies who tormented her.
When Morgan committed suicide, the Dunbar family spent many months in a fog, dealing with the immediate aftermath of the unexpected loss of a child, a sibling and, in Bailey’s case, a twin sister and mirror image of herself. Natasha soon realized that the bullying that contributed to Morgan’s suicide and the lack of mental health care services for young adults desperately needed to be addressed in the face of an epidemic in our country.
“I always laugh when I see reports about a new strain of flu epidemic headed to North America,” says Dunbar. “We have our own epidemic in this country and it is taking the lives of our young adults every day.”
She refers to the epidemic nature of online bullying, a different form of bullying from the old-school days when one could go home and close the door, shutting out your bullies. Now the bullies are everywhere, and with powerful weapons like social media.
“This can’t just be about raising awareness anymore,” she says with conviction. “You can raise awareness until you are blue in the face, but what needs to happen is that this needs to stop. We need to change the laws so there are real consequences for bullying,” she says of her campaign to enact legislation in this province that would deal with bullying of all forms in a stronger manner.
“It’s like drunk driving,” Dunbar explains. “You can raise awareness, but until you make sure there are consequences for those who drink and drive you will not see real change.”
If anyone knows the need for change it is the Dunbar family. Morgan, a young teenager at the time of her death, was not only subjected to bullying but the collateral damage in a medical system with a lack of resources for young adults in need of mental health care. This lack of care compounded the issue, as her family was unable to secure the care Morgan needed to cope with the stresses of the bullying, and it was undoubtedly a contributing factor in her death.
Through it all there has been one bright spot, however. While the Dunbar family was relatively new to Fort McMurray, Natasha says the support since Morgan’s death has been immense.
“This community is incredibly supportive,” she says. “I have found a network of people who support Bailey, our family and our campaign to ensure that what happened to Morgan does not happen to another young adult. Fort McMurray is a community that comes together like that.”
Natasha, Bailey, the Dunbar family and a growing number of community members and supporters continue to advocate for change for our youth, including legislation dealing with bullying and pushing for more access for to mental health care for young adults, through an organization called “Morgan’s Mission”, founded in honour of Morgan.
“All Morgan ever wanted was to be a mom and a nurse,” says Dunbar with a small smile. “She just wanted to help people. Now, in her memory and through her mission, she still is.”