Mother says son is stuck in the system

Psychiatrist says society must be prepared for more people seeking assistance

Bonnie Belec bbelec@thetelegram.com
Published on December 20, 2013

It’s been a long 24 years for Mrs. B and her son, and she expects the road ahead to be even longer.
She said her son began exhibiting abnormal behaviours at the age of four, and she blames the abuse she and her children suffered at the hands of her husband as the contributing factor.

“He was angry all the time, lashing out,” she said of her son. “He would say he wanted to die or to kill himself. That’s not normal for a four-year-old.”

Mrs. B spoke to The Telegram Thursday, but didn’t want her full name used in order to protect her family’s identity.

She said their family doctor sent her son to the Janeway Children’s Hospital, but doctors said there wasn’t anything wrong with him and sent him home.

She said they’ve been hearing that all of his life.

Now 28, her son has been on a roller-coaster ride in the mental-health system, Mrs. B said.

“We don’t know where else to turn. We’re after asking everyone for help and they all tell us the same: ‘Go to the Waterford (Hospital),’” she said, adding he is still on waiting lists for services.

Mrs. B said she felt a glimmer of hope in the 1980s when her son was again sent to the Janeway.

“He started soiling his pants,” she recalled.

“He did it for four years. Every day the school would call. Every day I’d have to go get him. I was out of my mind. I didn’t know what to do,” she said.

That’s when the Janeway admitted him for three weeks.

“They trained him. That’s what they did. Not one person addressed why he was doing what he was doing or why he was behaving this way,” she said.

The next year he was accused of trying to set fire to a room in his school. Mrs. B, who by this time was a single parent, said she and her son went to a meeting with a group of educators.

Instead of offering them help or counselling, she said, they were berated.

“They told me he had issues, was lacking attention and focus, but no one told me what to do or how to help him, and they didn’t do anything to help,” Mrs. B said, sounding exasperated.

Mrs. B said by the time he was a teen, her son had turned to drugs, and by the time he was a young man he was hooked on prescription pills.

Now a father, he’s in the methadone program and is responding, she said, but he’s still not getting any counselling for  depression.

“It’s so simple, yet so complicated. All he needs is a safe, decent place to live, and counselling. It could make the difference in his life. He loves his children, but didn’t get an education and doesn’t have a job because he can’t get the help he needs to help cope with his depression,” she said.

People’s difficulty navigating the system is a concern for Eastern Health.

Kim Baldwin, regional director of community and children’s services in the mental health and addictions program, has said the authority is trying to address that by implementing a central intake service for adults. This would involve one telephone number, answered by trained professionals, who would assess calls and direct the person to the appropriate service.

They hope to have it up and running early next year.

Patients and mental-health advocates have told The Telegram there is a lack of services in the province for people who aren’t in crisis mode, and that the number of people seeking help far outweighs the services that are available.

It’s thought there are as many as 1,500 people waiting for mental health and addictions services.

The province said it’s responding by building two new addiction centres for youth, an adult addictions centre in Harbour Grace, and by planning to replace the antiquated Waterford Hospital.

“We have seen an exponential growth in the number of referrals coming in, which I guess is a good sign, as more people are reaching out to get help,” Baldwin said.

“It’s also frustrating for us as providers of the service, as well.”

Dr. Brian Furlong, chief of staff for the Homewood Health Centre — a facility that offers specialized programs for mental health in Guelph, Ont. — said wait lists can be detrimental to a person’s healing.

“I think one of the biggest problems is treatment is delayed for long periods of time, and people then don’t get the opportunity to have a good assessment, or accurate diagnosis because of the time delay,” he told The Telegram Wednesday.

“We need to be as aggressive with treating mental health and addictions as we are with treating cancer,” said Furlong, who is originally from Newfoundland.

In May 2012, Eastern Health announced it will work with Homewood to develop a new adult residential addictions treatment centre in Harbour Grace.

According to an emailed statement from Eastern Health Thursday, during fiscal year 2012-13, it sent 22 people to Homewood, funded by the Health Department — less than one per cent of all referrals to the mental health and addictions program.  

“Generally, individuals can be referred to out-of-province facilities such as the Homewood Health Centre if it has been determined that local services cannot meet individuals’ specific needs,” the statement said.

“Out-of-province referrals are generally low, as we try to provide the best treatment within the community where individuals’ support systems are.”

Furlong said as society becomes successful at reducing stigma, there shouldn’t be any surprise that more people will come forward to seek help, and society has to be prepared to respond.

“Governments and the like have to look at how much total health dollars do we dedicate to mental health and addictions, and ask is it proportional to what it would be if it was a physical health issue,” he said.

 

bbelec@thetelegram.com