A mother in the Cowichan Valley says her 19-year-old son still struggles with depression, anxiety and substance use after years through a broken youth mental health system.
“Every day I am fearful that my son is going to take his life,” the woman, who chose to keep her identity and that of her son protected.
“My dreams for my son to have a healthy, happy productive life every day get further and further away.”
She is speaking publicly for the first time about her experience with B.C.’s youth mental health system following the death of Langford teen Andre Courtemanche, whose body was found earlier this month. Courtemanche struggled with depression and couldn’t get the help he needed. His family received a phone call for a psychiatrist appointment two days after the teen went missing.
For the Cowichan woman’s son, the struggles started as early as kindergarten.
“He was uttering thoughts of suicide at nine-years-old,” she said.
The single mom and her son were in Ontario at the time and she says there they were able to get the help they needed. But a change of circumstances brought them to B.C. when he was 12 and things quickly went downhill.
She says her pleas for family counselling went unanswered and the inadequate patchwork of care he did receive didn’t help. She says he ended up being taken to the emergency room under the mental health act five separate times.
According to the province the average wait time on the south island in 2019/2020 for a child’s first clinical service, like seeing a psychiatrist, was nearly 59 days after referral, slightly above the provincial average of 54.5 days. But the provincial numbers are better than a few years ago: in 2016/2017 the average wait was 69.3 days.
One child psychologist says a seismic shift in our system is needed.
“I think we have to better appreciate the severity of the pain of the youth that are contemplating suicide and really think of these as emergencies and not as something that can be treated down the line,” said psychologist Dr. Bonnie Leadbeater.
“We still have this big gap between physical health and mental health and somehow the mental health pain doesn’t count quite as much,” she said.
Cowichan’s MLA says the province needs to take immediate action to provide more school counsellors and to ensure all mental health treatment, including psychologists and therapists, are covered under MSP.
“That preventative work has been shown through data and evidence to be so effective, providing people with access to that care means they have the tools to deal with mental health issues as they’re arising, not waiting until people are in crisis,” said MLA and Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau.
“The stories we’re hearing and the way people are being treated when they’re facing a mental health crisis, we have to learn from this and we have to do better and we have to do better right now,” she said.
While some improvements to the system are being made, the mom in the Cowichan Valley says time is ticking. And while it may be too late for her own son, who is now an adult, she wants to see change for other families.
“We’re letting these children into our society that are broken, and that had time to be fixed but there was no tools to fix them,” she said.
The politics of youth mental health with Rob Shaw
Mental Health Services and Supports:
- 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433): for individuals who are or know someone who is having thoughts of suicide. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and in up to 140 languages. Operated in partnership with Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC.
- 310-Mental Health (310-6789 – no need to dial an area code): for individuals who would like emotional support, information and resources specific to mental health in British Columbia. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is toll-free anywhere in British Columbia (no need to dial an area code).
- https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/health/managing-your-health/mental-health-substance-use/virtual-supports-covid-19: a comprehensive listing of new and expanded virtual supports available to support mental health during the pandemic.