‘Empty promises’: mental health patients say B.C. healthcare system is killing youth

'Empty promises': mental health patients say B.C. healthcare system is killing youth

Warning: This story contains topics dealing with mental distress and suicide.

Emma Epp and Ella Hale wear the scars of their mental health struggles on their arms.

“I’ve been struggling with my mental health since I was 11,” said Epp.

“I was in and out of Victoria hospital with suicide attempts.”

Now, at 19 years old, Epp has been diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and borderline personality disorder.

Her friend Hale is 18, not only shares a similar diagnosis, but also a similar experience at Royal Jubilee’s Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES).

“I was quickly dismissed as having ‘teenage problems,’ that things would be better when I was 25,” said Hale

“The psychiatrist actually said if I killed myself my dad wouldn’t care.”

Hale attempted suicide not even a month later. Epp said her treatment, wasn’t any better.

“I was begging for help, I was extremely suicidal,” said Epp, detailing her own experience.

“They discharged me within a couple of hours with a crisis line card and basically told me to come back when it’s even worse.”

The two young women say they were ridiculed, belittled, and disbelieved by PES staff, and discharged while still in crisis.

“To be invalidated by a medical professional, a mental health professional, it’s so extremely hard,” said Hale.

“It takes a lot of courage to reach out for help. Even worse when you know you’re gonna go and be laughed at by staff,” said Epp.

And when the young women started the Facebook page ‘PES: A Pathetic Excuse for Support,’ detailing their experiences, hundreds of others also began to share theirs.

“It’s life and death, people are dying trying to access service,” said Hale.

“People aren’t killing themselves, it’s the system that’s killing them.”

Their stories caught the ear of Premier John Horgan, who met with the young women, along with the Minister of Mental Health just last week.

“These two young women followed what they thought was the right course and they didn’t get a positive outcome,” said Premier Horgan.

“We need to make sure we do a better job of it and, had we not been able to speak with these two women, we wouldn’t be in the position to make the changes they want to see.”

What these young women didn’t hear in their meeting, however, was a plan for change.

“They say, ‘reach out.’ But where? And to who, and how? Because you can’t. You really can’t,” said Hale.

“It’s a great phrase to say, but unless there’s stuff actually in place to support people reaching out. It’s empty promises.”

It’s something the official opposition critic for mental health and addictions says the current government needs to step up and change.

“At the end of the day, we need to treat mental health as we do body health. Throwing money at it is something I’ll say this government isn’t doing enough of. But I’ll also say that’s not the only solution,” said Trevor Halford,  MLA of Surrey White Rock.

“The solution is to have an actual plan. And what I’ve seen from this government, is that they don’t have one. I think the government has to get its act together on this file and start taking it seriously.”

But Epp and Hale say the problem is also the stigma, within the system that’s supposed to treat them.

“The mistreatment of patients, that’s not underfunding, that’s just mistreatment and disrespect,” said Hale.

Island Health says they are taking their concerns seriously and will be “strengthening professional development and strongly encouraging participation,” as well as bringing in a senior mental health leader to take note of the experience and challenges of both patients and staff.

“People have a right and an expectation to be treated with respect and dignity when they are accessing our services,” said Island Health in a statement to CHEK News.

Meanwhile, Hale and Epp are calling for more specifics: trauma-informed training, for the province to provide more mental health resources, and to extend ‘youth’ support until the age of 25, instead of 18.

“I aged out. So a bunch of places right now are saying I’m too high-risk for them to help, or I need longer term than they can provide,” said Epp.

“So at the moment, after eight years, I don’t have anybody. I’m on a two-year waitlist for a psychiatrist.”

“We don’t want to have to go in and know we are going to get laughed at. We’re not asking for much, we’re asking to be treated like a human,” said Epp.

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the provincial suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-suicide (1-800-784-2433), or visit crisislines.bc.ca to find local mental health and crisis resources.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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