‘It’s a lot of lip service’: External review needed for Vancouver Island’s psychiatric services, patients say

'It's a lot of lip service': External review needed for Vancouver Island's psychiatric services, patients say

Is mental health truly treated differently than a broken bone when you go to the hospital?

At least 2,500 people, who have signed a petition calling for an external review of mental health and psychiatric services on Vancouver Island, think so — including the Fawkes family.

“[Glen] was never treated, he was never given a chance. And I just don’t think that’s good enough,” said Lisa Fawkes.

Lisa’s husband Glen was the picture of health and happiness, a loving husband, the father of two boys, and an accomplished helicopter pilot.

He was healthy until 2020.

“Right around the time COVID hit, Glen had a lot of stressors,” said Lisa.

In addition to the pandemic, there were financial hits, a tree fell on their house, and Lisa got sick.

Glen stopped being able to sleep. Anxiety set in, which turned to paranoia, psychosis, and delusions. He and his family tried everything: counseling, cognitive therapy, multiple trips to Campbell River’s hospital, and at Royal Jubilee’s Emergency Psychiatric Services (PES).

“He wanted help. But his fear was stopping him from being honest. And we were not listened to,” said Lisa.

Because of the pandemic, family members were not allowed to attend appointments as advocates. Fawkes says beyond that, any attempt her family made to speak with any doctor or nurse in PES was refused, and the documentation she says the family gathered and sent in of his suicidal ideation, was downplayed and misinterpreted.

In addition, because of Glen’s growing paranoia of ‘getting locked up’, Lisa believes Glen downplayed his suicidal ideation to doctors in appointments.

Nineteen days after being released from PES, Glen took his own life in front of his wife Lisa.

“Glen fell through the cracks. And I don’t think that’s a unique story,” said Lisa.

Now Lisa is joining Ella Hale and Emma Epp in calling for an external review of psychiatric services on Vancouver Island and of the PES system.

Hale and Epp made headlines in March with their accounts of being dismissed and belittled when they sought mental health help.

They met with the minister of mental health and the premier, Island Health, and PES. At the time, the premier promised change.

“We need to make sure we do a better job of it. 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,” said John Horgan in March.

But in the three months since, Hale and Epp say change isn’t happening.

“It’s a lot of lip service,” said Hale.

“The lack of funding excuse can only go so far. John Horgan’s government needs to step up. The Ministry of Mental Health doesn’t do much. They don’t allocate funding. Everybody just keeps passing accountability.”

Meanwhile, Island Health says there are improvements underway at PES, like hiring a Director of Acute Psychiatric Care, a survey of staff to look for further training opportunities, and patient feedback was reviewed.

The health authority says it has also strengthened post-discharge follow-up with patients, and recently opened a sub-acute unit “which will support patient flow by providing a step-down service as people prepare to be discharged.”

But from the 2,200 members of their Facebook group PES: A Pathetic Excuse for Support, Hale and Epp are hearing a different story.

“We got a story last week regarding the same psychiatrist that I saw that told me if I killed myself my dad wouldn’t care. They said the same thing they said to me. That when you’re 25 you’ll be better, you’re just a teenager, it’s just hormones,” said Hale.

“If they talked to staff, it’s clearly not doing anything because the staff are repeating their behavior over and over again, almost a year later.”

MLA Adam Olsen will be tabling their petition calling for an independent investigation of Vancouver Island psych services, this week, and then some.

“The review over these services isn’t done on its own,” he said. “There’s work this legislature needs to do, probably to amend the Mental Health Act as well.”

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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