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Editorial: Frightening spiral

Gary Norris, father of accused murderer Anne Norris, in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Monday afternoon, where he testified at his daughter’s trial. He told the jury that his family struggled for years while dealing with Anne’s worsening mental health issues.
Gary Norris, father of accused murderer Anne Norris, testified in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Monday afternoon about his family's struggle in dealing with Anne’s worsening mental health issues. — Tara Bradbury/The Telegram

It is definitely too late to help Marcel Reardon, who was killed in a hammer attack in May 2016.

It may well be too late to meaningfully help Anne Norris, who killed Reardon and whose case is now being heard in this province’s Supreme Court.

But maybe, just maybe, frank testimony from Norris’ father on Monday might help others.

On the stand, Gary Norris drew a clear and compelling picture of a young woman falling into mental illness: from stockpiling weapons to accusing family members, friends and coworkers of imagined assault and sexual misconduct, to an inability to get help from medical officials to drifting into a life in shelters and on the street.

Just imagine you were testifying that your own daughter had said her boyfriend had held a gun to her head and sexually assaulted her, but you knew the boyfriend had done nothing wrong.

Testifying that you even drove the boyfriend to court to deal with a request for a peace bond.

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“A couple days after making the report to police, she went to the Waterford. Her aunt was with her,” Norris testified. “They wouldn’t admit her. They gave her medication and sent her home. As she was leaving, Anne was yelling, ‘I’m going to kill myself.’ Her aunt said to a nurse, ‘Did you hear that?’ The nurse said, ‘I heard it, but I can’t do anything about it.’ As they were walking out, Anne tipped her head back and swallowed all 20 pills. She went back to the hospital and had her stomach pumped.”

On the stand, Gary Norris drew a clear and compelling picture of a young woman falling into mental illness: from stockpiling weapons to accusing family members, friends and coworkers of imagined assault and sexual misconduct, to an inability to get help from medical officials to drifting into a life in shelters and on the street.

What’s clear from the testimony — regardless of its crucial role in establishing whether or not Anne Norris was criminally responsible for Reardon’s death — is that families can often end up dealing with mental health crises with little effective support outside of a circle of soon-to-be exhausted family members.

Anne Norris’ story is one of a series of short-term committals at the Waterford and at the Health Sciences psychiatric ward, of attempts by her family to get her more help, both inside and outside the province, and about periods of relative order when Norris was on medication, and slides into bizarre behaviour when she stopped taking the medication.

There are plenty of families in this province who will recognize parts of Gary Norris’ story, even if their own family members’ conditions don’t even get close to the severity of Anne Norris’.

The exhaustion, the desperation, the constant fear of what might come next, the need to find financial resources to try and address problems the health-care system can’t or won’t deal with — the list goes on.

We may have gotten better about talking about mental health issues. They certainly have spent too much time in the dark. Now we need to find a way to move beyond talk.

There simply has to be a better way.

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