HALIFAX – A Halifax-area mother whose 21-year-old daughter took her own life earlier this year expressed her frustration in the provincial legislature Tuesday, saying the mental health system prevented the young woman from getting enough help in her struggle with depression.
Carolyn Fox said her experience with her daughter Cayley, who died Jan. 22, showed there aren’t enough treatment options and supports for young people in the health system.
She said her daughter, a varsity rugby player, was in her final year of a science degree at Saint Mary’s University when her life underwent a “drastic change.”
Fox said she had no idea about mental health problems that saw her daughter taken to hospital on three occasions last year, until she received a call from Cayley’s roommate. She said because of privacy laws she received no official notification.
“She was released each time within a few hours,” said Fox. “No red flags as to say this girl had been here (in hospital) three times, released and told she was fine.”
Fox said the situation isn’t acceptable because parents of young adults need to know in order to help or get help.
Fox appeared at the legislature in support of legislation proposed by the Opposition Progressive Conservatives. The Tory amendments to the Youth Secretariat Act would require the secretariat to establish a committee to focus on youth mental health issues and support systems.
Premier Stephen McNeil said he needed time to examine the bill, but he expressed sympathy with Fox’s complaints about the restraints involved with the privacy law.
McNeil said while a tricky issue, his government would begin an immediate examination of the law to see if it results in unintended consequences in certain instances.
“We need to be able to have some flexibility so we have to look at it, but there are a whole host of issues associated with that and not the least of which is breaching someone’s privacy,” McNeil said.
He said the effort would have to involve several departments including health, justice and education.
Fox was clear that although her daughter thought the treatment she received was helpful, she also thought there wasn’t enough assistance.
Fox said she believes there needs to be more resources in schools and for the people who work with children, including teachers. She also said hospitals should offer full assessments for patients who have been taken there by ambulance or by loved ones.
“A lot of people have reached out to me over the past three or four months,” said Fox. “They have come to me with their stories that it (mental health) is not being taken seriously enough.”
Health Minister Leo Glavine said while there are some strong programs for youth administered through the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, more can be done.
Glavine said there is also help in schools across the province through the SchoolsPlus program which provides supports to children and families considered at risk by providing or finding services such as counselling.
But he admitted there are difficulties when young people make the transition from teen to young adult.
“It is a very difficult circumstance for many and it’s one that I know we have to do a better job on,” said Glavine.
The province currently has a budget of $274 million dollars to address mental health needs, $30.2 million of which is devoted to the IWK.