Senior says her suicidal intentions were dismissed

Barb Sweet
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A St. John’s senior citizen says she left the psychiatric unit at the Health Sciences Centre worse off than when she went in with suicidal intentions.

“That will be the last place I will ever go. You can’t ask me to go there,” the woman said of her reaction to a conversation with her family doctor when she was asked to promise she would seek help in future.

“That and the Waterford are the only deal in town. Where does a person go? There is nowhere for me to go.”

The woman, who does not want her name used because of her part-time job, contacted The Telegram after reading about Carolyn Snow, who spoke out about being sent home from the Waterford recently after a suicide attempt, only to try again.

“I really felt badly for that young woman. Unless one has ever experienced it, you can’t even begin to comprehend the pain that you are in,” the senior said.

The older woman is still struggling to find a will to live, is waiting for counselling and hoping for a referral to a psychiatrist she saw three decades ago after her first suicide attempt. Roughly 15 years go, there was another attempt.

Recently a crisis in her life triggered old trauma and she went first to the Waterford for assessment and then to the Health Sciences Centre.

She was admitted there, she said. But she believes a nurse’s impression of her personality — the bubbly facade she said she projects in public — coloured her treatment. After roughly a week, she was discharged with no diagnosis of mental illness.

“The bottom line is I am out here fighting desperately to find a doctor. And it’s not OK that I am in the state that I am in,” the woman said.

“You are beyond desperate and it musters up all the courage you have as a human being (to get help). There is a stigma. And it’s not just out in world. It is in with the people who look after you, as well.”

The woman said she felt she was flagged as a difficult patient after objecting to the nurse’s comments to her.

“You can’t speak up. You can’t disagree,” she said.

(The nurse) said, and I will never forget this, ‘We send many, many, many patients home who are suicidal from this floor.’

“She said to me, ‘But we all see you around the floor. You are happy and chatting and obviously not depressed.’ … It wasn’t being said in a nice way.”

But the woman said she was just trying to act positively around other patients.

“Because I am a people person, if I am around people I pull myself together. I don’t want to be a burden to people I am around,” she said.

“When you have that kind of suicidal depression, once you have gone somewhere and done something, that is such as huge relief. … It doesn’t mean I don’t still have those feelings.”

Upon being discharged, the senior said, she lost hope of getting adequate treatment again.

“I am severely depressed and going out to the same situation, and nothing has changed except I felt even worse because of how I was treated,” she said.

“There shouldn’t be a system that when you can’t do it anymore, just goes, ‘You look happy to us.’”

Previously, Eastern Health, which doesn’t discuss specific cases, has said all patients are assessed by a team of nursing staff and physicians.

The decision to either discharge or admit a patient is made by the assessment team.

Eastern Health operates a free, provincial 24-hour confidential mental health crisis line (1-888-737-4668) staffed with professionals trained to help deal with crises and suicidal thoughts.

There is also a mobile crisis response team that is able to respond to those in crisis in their home or a designated meeting area in St. John’s and area. This service is available from Wednesday to Saturday, 4 p.m. to midnight.

Organizations: Health Sciences Centre.She

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Recent comments

  • mary
    May 24, 2014 - 12:13

    Where is the transition plan? From hospital where it appears the senior coped better in the company of others, to what? Back home where clearly she was not coping for whatever reason? Where is the effort to duplicate aspects of the hospital environment that were apparently so positive? Access to psychiatrist? Access to support group maybe? I just don't know enough about this case perhaps, but unless this senior is receiving some type of outpatient intervention on a daily basis, and if the hospital is the only place it can be found, well the system is broken. She should not have been discharged without the appropriate interventions! If an artery was slowing leaking, one would not be sent home from hospital to bleed. Think of that way. This woman is telling us that her life is slipping away. Why aren't we listening? Please hang on senior person. Find that thing in your life that gave you spirit in the past and just hang on.

  • Carolyn Snow
    May 23, 2014 - 14:21

    And the same response is given by Eastern Health to this poor woman as was given to me. This response is nowhere near good enough. Also, let me make something clear: the Mental Health Crisis Line is staffed by psychiatric nurses who work from the Waterford Hospital. It is all within the exact same system of care that has turned people like myself and this woman away. I myself have heard people at the Psychiatric Assessment Unit say that they discharge many people who are suicidal. I know that there are reasons they let certain people go (for example, those who feel suicidal but do not have the intent to carry out a plan), but it is not an excuse to justify discharging someone actively suicidal, or someone who feels worse mentally upon discharge than when they were admitted. I'd also like to mention that I have personally had admissions to the Health Sciences psychiatry ward, and it has also been my experience that speaking up about a problem you are having regarding staff or how things are handled is extraordinarily difficult. I learned the hard way that the only thing that gets you treated "nicely" is to push away any irritability, anger, etc you may feel due to your illness and put on a show. Of course, as we see in this story, putting on the exact opposite kind of show (acting great when you do not feel great) gets you a dismissal. My thought on this is that better communication from staff to the patient would be necessary in such instances, and better understanding about the patient's particular problems as well. It does not take very long to sit someone down and ask, "You seem very happy to us, when we observe you. Why is that, when you say you are depressed?" But the asking person must be non-judgmental, and also ready and willing to listen to the patient. There are many instances, in differing wards, where I have been asked similar questions in a judgmental way, and not only does it make it harder for the patient to talk to the professional, but it also gives us an understanding that you are coming in biased, and as such, talking to you is not necessarily going to produce a result that in any way helps us. Which is the point of going into a hospital in the first place: so that patients can be HELPED by staff. Not to be judged by staff, not to be criticized or accused of dishonesty by staff, and certainly not to be dismissed by them. What all mental health practitioners need to understand is that, especially with illnesses like depression, appearances can be deceiving. We are made to understand that if we have a mental illness we should not show it; anything and everything that we can do to appear normal must be done. So a lot of us develop fronts, and the ability to appear normal, when in reality we are anything but okay on the inside. A person who is clinically depressed is not always going to present blankly with a monotone voice, but this seems to be expected when you are hospitalized, otherwise you're somehow not suffering the same symptoms as the other person, or certainly not to the same degree. But that is an incorrect way of thinking. The ability to act "okay", and the mental illness symptoms you suffer, are NOT the same thing and one should never be confused with the other. The ability to act "fine" is often a survival strategy that people feel they MUST employ, and it is amazing to me that people misinterpret something so basic and simple as this. Every practitioner of mental health is aware that there is still a lot of stigma about mental health out there. Yet they are surprised when people act okay to cover up their mental illnesses, no matter where they are. This is not logical. After this long-winded essay, may I applaud your courage, anonymous lady, for having the bravery to speak out about the system. I have heard so many stories about this system of ours since my own article came out that I can't believe it has gone unaddressed for so long. How have we let this happen? I don't mean mental health clients letting anything happens, as for obvious reasons we are not usually in the best of positions to fight for ourselves. But how have the nurses, doctors, their bosses, CEOs, and governments let these things go on, and for years, as they have been? Why have there been no major changes made? Why is it still okay that people kill themselves after presenting to hospital as suicidal, asking for help? How is it that although complaints have gone to Eastern Health before, although changes have been asked for many times so things like this don't continue to happen, that they still happen? Why are we continually being played for fools?