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Richmond man remembered for loyalty, dark sense of humour

Tristan Coatta died from an accidental overdose after struggling with an eating disorder and substance use problems.
TristanWeb
Richmond resident Tristan Coatta died in late January.

Karly Tanner said she can’t believe her friend, Tristan Coatta, is gone.

At the age of 25, the Richmond man died at home of an accidental overdose on Jan. 25.

Tanner met Tristan at a therapy group in Vancouver and as it turned out they were the only participants from Richmond.

Despite the fact Tanner was five years older than Tristan, they became close friends and they would meet to take her dog for a walk or go to the movies.

“It’s shocking – I can’t believe he’s gone,” Tanner said.

Just recently, the BC Coroners Service released its statistics on overdose deaths from 2020 of which there were 18 in Richmond, up from 10 in 2019. Across the province, there was a 74 per cent increase in overdose deaths in 2020 for a total of 1,716.

Tristan’s father, Terry Coatta, described his son as a voracious reader and “self-trained” in many areas, for example, cooking, fishing, options trading and, in order to work for him, software development. He was also an avid photographer.

“He devoured information,” Terry said.

But he also struggled with his mental health and eventually developed an eating disorder and substance use disorder, the latter of which Terry thought was in the past.

Tristan started having mental-health issues at the age of 16 and his father Terry said it was always a “challenge” to find good solid help for his son.

Terry said there is a lack of cohesiveness in the mental health sector with services available in bits and pieces. There is no one point of contact and no advocate for people trying to find help.

Terry watched Tristan suddenly lose a lot of weight despite eating a lot of food – this twigged Terry on to something being amiss.

But Tristan would become defensive if questioned about it.

The Looking Glass Foundation, an agency that helps people with eating disorders, points out eating disorders actually “have little to do with food, weight or body image,” rather, it’s a way for people to cope with problems or regain control. Eating disorders can affect a person’s self-esteem as well as their sense of identity and worth.

Eventually, however, Tristan recognized he had a problem and went into residential treatment at Looking Glass.

While there, Tanner would visit him when he got a pass to go out.

He was working to meet his goals – to be healthy and happy – in the face of mental illness.

“He fought really, really, really hard,” Tanner said.

His death from an overdose has left Tanner with questions about what Tristan was going through.

“It does jar me because things were going a lot better – but there’s always that silent suffering that even those closest to you who want to help might not be able to recognize,” she said.

Tanner has seen addiction within her circle of family and friends and, working as a legal assistant at a Richmond law firm, she sees the devastating impact of addiction and the cycle it draws people into.

“We just need to give people the confidence that they’re not alone,” she said “There’s help out there – in those moments of total despair and hopelessness, just reach out to somebody, anybody. And if that person doesn’t answer, call somebody else.”

Tanner said she believes in keeping connected with those who struggle with substance use.

She has a friend who has fallen into addiction and is living on the streets. She tries to reach out to her every day, telling her about her day - staying connected with her to let her know she cares and not shaming her about her substance use.

“I try to keep her connected to the life that she has here,” Tanner said.

Tanner is left with a void after losing her friend, Tristan, whose dark sense of humour she always appreciated and whose support for her always came “from a place of non-judgment.”

“He was never a burden, and if only he could be here to see how deeply he’s missed,” Tanner added.

Terry described his son Tristan as “smart and funny and loyal.”

Tristan leaves behind, in addition to his father Terry, his mother Louise, brother Spenser and a large extended family.

To find youth mental health services in Richmond, go to foundrybc.ca/richmond