Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Lives are Lost When Systems are Cut: Mental health in BC

Failure of System Spirals into Family Tragedy
Jack Knox, Times Colonist, June 16 2010


Her parents desperately tried to get her help, but there was always a barrier, a box that couldn't be ticked, to prevent her from getting into a program or facility. "There was always something that didn't fit," George says. Most of the time, the system would spit her back out, so it fell to her parents to pick up the pieces on their own.

Her parents' pleas that she needed to be in a psychiatric hospital with ongoing treatment fell on deaf ears. Laura lost 100 pounds.

On April 7, she went to court, where the court-appointed psychiatrist suggested federal time -- two years plus -- so that she could get better mental-health treatment not available at the provincial system. The judge agreed.

A week later, on April 19, 2009, Laura Schellenberg finally gave up. She hanged herself in the family home. She was 34 years old.

"The judicial and mental-health systems don't converse," says Alice. "They don't know what to do with these people," says George. "It is no use throwing good money after bad if the system is dysfunctional."

More of the story

My comments:

It would be helpful if people really understood the broad strokes of what is happening in the mental health and addictions areas, as well the criminal justice system (not to mention income assistance, housing, health care...). Things are being taken apart, brick by brick, what do we think happens when this is how governments "work" these days.

300 individuals in Victoria used to have MH case management and treating psychiatrists. With the stroke of a pen, all of those people lost that community MH care. Eric Martin Pavilion lost 10 beds in 2009. Beds have been slashed for the homeless in Victoria. As have community agencies.
This is happening around the province of BC.

FYI - Riverview Hospital has not entirely shut down but it is well along the way to it. Part of what individuals, families and communities are experiencing is people who desperately require adult tertiary psychiatric care are out on the streets and suffering terribly. One thing people can do is let your elected officials, both MLA's and MP's, know that MH & addictions funding is a priority for your communities and for people who need it.

This story illustrates the painful story of a woman who could not get the care she needed and her parents (any of us could be in their shoes as a relative) who slammed up against the walls that prevent better accessibility to MH care. When people don't get it, they do terrible, tragic things to themselves and others.
People with mental illness deserve to live with dignity, support and timely and responsive care just like any of us expect for our health.

Mental Health Gaps Deadly for Too Many
Marilyn Erickson, Times Colonist, June 16, 2010

The recent tragic death of Justin Wendland should be a call to action for all levels of government, but in particular the Vancouver Island Health Authority, who sit at the table with the Health Ministry and have failed to convince them of the need for action.

As an addiction worker, too many times I've had clients released from psychiatric emergency while still struggling with suicidal or threatening thoughts and behaviour. In all cases they have gone on to commit violent acts or tragically taken their own lives, when a successful intervention, psychiatric care and lengthy stay may have prevented it.

Last week, a client was admitted twice and twice he was released the following day while still threatening harm to himself or others and struggling with his addictive behaviour. He was a danger to others in that state, and predictably attempted the following night to take his own life.

Admitted back to psych emerg and found certifiable, he was unable to obtain a bed and was again released in less than 24 hours with a prescription for medication but no followup co-ordinated care plan. It happens often and it is unconscionable and unacceptable!

Additional money for the underfunded, understaffed Archie Courtnall Centre at the Royal Jubilee Hospital is a priority, as is a 24/7 drop-in centre offering immediate care for the mentally ill and addicted, many whom we know are homeless and unable to cope without supports in place.

Along with affordable housing, we must have access to more immediate and longer treatment options, including at least 20 new crisis beds.

Recent cuts at VIHA eliminated beds at Eric Martin Pavilion just when we need them the most.

The problem needs to be funded and addressed immediately or we will have more senseless tragedies.

Marilyn Erickson


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