Families with suicidal children plead for overhaul of Manitoba's mental health system

'Not my medical emergency': Anxiety patient shown door at Grace Hospital

Parents of children dealing with suicide are calling for an overhaul of the mental health system as they face months-long waits for treatment they need to keep their loved ones alive.

Bonnie Bricker, a family navigator with the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, said over the last two weeks, she and MLA Dr. Jon Gerrard have fielded calls from 18 different families whose children are grappling with suicidal thoughts and can't get the help they need.

"Some parents are sleeping outside their kids' doors to make sure that they don't harm themselves," Bricker said. "This province is in a significant crisis situation within the mental health programs, period."

Two families shared their stories at the Manitoba Legislature on Monday afternoon to stress the need for more accessible mental health care.

One mother spoke to CBC News on the condition we did not identify her, to protect her suicidal son who is set to be released from hospital. 

She says the wait to get into Manitoba's only supervised residence for psychiatric patients is five to 10 years.

She says hospital staff told her if she can't take him home, they will send him by taxi to Siloam Mission. 

"I'm thinking, you're taking a person who's never been on the street who's suffering from anxiety and you're dumping him on the street where he can sleep at Siloam Mission?" she said. "Like is this going to help or are they just encouraging suicide?"

Another father told CBC News he took out a second mortgage on his home to pay for therapy out of province for his daughter.

"Even if you wanted to pay in this province for your child to get help, there is nothing," he said. "For us it was Kelowna, Salt Lake City, and I think there was another facility in Ontario, but it was out of our own pocket to go there." 

The goal of the meeting was to highlight the need for a long-term residential treatment facility in Manitoba and to make programs such as dialectical behavioural therapy more readily available.

Dialectical behavioural therapy is a type of cognitive therapy that works to give patients skills to help cope with and change self-destructive behaviours.

The therapy is offered at hospitals and various outpatient clinics in Manitoba, but wait times to enter the program can be several months, according the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

Bricker said she would like to see the therapy offered at a community-service level though organizations such as Mood Disorders.

Her son Reid, who died by suicide in October 2015, was on a waiting list for dialectical behavioural therapy but never entered the program. 

"A lot of people are falling through the cracks and they're dying," she said. 

Northern communities face greater challenges

MLA Judy Klassen spoke to the unique challenges of mental health care in Manitoba's northern and remote First Nations.

She said both youth and adults dealing with suicidal thoughts or attempts are often flown to larger centres only to be discharged a few hours later.

"They get flown back to their reserve only to have it repeated," she said. "That's a huge cost to our system." 

Bricker, Gerrard and these families are calling on the province to address the need for a residential treatment centre and better access to DBT therapy, or have Manitoba Health cover the costs to seek treatment elsewhere. 

​"Let's keep our loved ones here," Bricker said. "I don't want families to have to battle Manitoba Health to have to get funding to the tune of $30,000 a month. Let's do that here."

Following Question Period on Monday Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen agreed more needs to be done.

"I've had experience in my own family with both mental health and addictions. I've met with families who have been impacted very directly. It is too long," he said. "I think some of the recommendations that we have already need to be looked at and perhaps acted upon."