In midst of grief, Lexi Daken's family sees a chance for change

·5 min read
Lexi Daken, centre, with friend Darian Crouse, left, and Carly Crouse. (Submitted by Chris Daken - image credit)
Lexi Daken, centre, with friend Darian Crouse, left, and Carly Crouse. (Submitted by Chris Daken - image credit)

Chris Daken is taken aback by the outpouring of attention, support and condolences his family is receiving in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.

Lexi Daken, daughter to Chris and Shawna Betts, sister to Piper and Brennah, student at Leo Hayes High School, friend, athlete, teenager, took her own life last Wednesday.

She was just 16.

A week earlier, Lexi had been taken to the emergency room at Fredericton's Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital by a guidance counsellor who was concerned about her mental health.

She waited for eight hours without receiving any mental health intervention.

After she was told by a nurse that calling a psychiatrist would take another two hours, Lexi left the hospital with a referral for followup.

Since her death, Daken said, the family has been bowled over by the offers of support, from here in New Brunswick and right across the country.

"Lexi's story has touched a lot of people in ways we would never have imagined," he said.

Chris Daken with daughter Lexi, when she was about 2-years-old.
Chris Daken with daughter Lexi, when she was about 2-years-old. (Submitted by Chris Daken)

'Lexi didn't get the help she went there for'

On Tuesday, one day after Lexi's funeral service, Daken told CBC News his heart is aching but his mission is clear: to shine a spotlight on the broken system that allowed this to happen, and to never let it fade until things change.

"It can't be acceptable that a person could go to the hospital and not get the care they need, that they be made to feel like a burden and pushed away," he said.

"Lexi didn't get the help she went there for, and I really believe the government has to take a good look in the mirror and … at the decisions that were made that day."

That's part of the reason Daken said his family made a conscious choice to speak openly about the tragedy.

"The day after her death, we started getting calls from media," he said. "We sat down as a family to decide whether we should ignore the publicity and deal with Lexi's death in our own way, or speak out about it to everyone."

Ultimately, they decided that "keeping it in the dark" would only perpetuate the stigma around mental health issues.

"This has happened too often," Daken said. "We can't let this go away. We want to keep the momentum going, and hopefully it leads to change."

That can't happen if people aren't talking about it, he said.

"We want kids to know there's help out there. We're hoping to make mental health an easier subject to talk about. … It's no problem for people to talk about having a broken bone, so why can't we talk about having a broken brain?"

Green Leader David Coon said Tuesday he will push the government to call for a public inquiry in the wake of Lexi Daken's death, noting "I will be relentless about it."
Green Leader David Coon said Tuesday he will push the government to call for a public inquiry in the wake of Lexi Daken's death, noting "I will be relentless about it."(CBC News file photo)

Family supports call for a public inquiry

For this reason, the family also supports Green Party Leader David Coon's call for an inquiry into the province's handling of suicidal youths in emergency rooms.

In an interview Tuesday morning, Coon said he plans to push the government to call a public inquiry into Lexi's death, noting "I will be relentless about this."

"Too many teens in crisis have been turned back from emergency rooms without getting help, without getting admitted into a safe place where they won't be able to harm themselves," he said.

"Something has to be done. We can't keep going with this broken system."

Coon said he'd like to see "everyone along the chain" called as witnesses at the inquiry, from the psychiatrist and nurse on duty the day Lexi visited the hospital to the hospital management.

Lexi Daken shown here with her sisters. From left to right, Brennah, Piper and Lexi.
Lexi Daken shown here with her sisters. From left to right, Brennah, Piper and Lexi. (Submitted by Chris Daken)

Daken said he spoke with Coon about his plan at Lexi's vigil, and he supports it completely.

"I think it's a good thing," he said. "The public is looking for answers just as we are."

Daken sees a public inquiry as another crucial step on the road to real change.

"What we have seen over and over again in the past, when a teen has taken their own life, there's a big outcry for a week or two, and then after a while it just quietly goes away," he said. "We don't want that to happen this time."

The sheer number of individuals and groups who have contacted Daken and his family to offer help and support gives him hope that this time, it really will be different, he said.

"We've had mental health associations reaching out from across the country, people here in the community organizing fundraisers, we've had [People's Alliance Leader] Kris Austin and the Liberals and Mr. Coon in touch with us," he said. "None of us wants to let this fade away.

"So as tragic as Lexi's death is, we hope some good can come out it."

If you need help:

CHIMO hotline: 1-800-667-5005 / http://www.chimohelpline.ca

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566.