Warning: This story contains discussion of suicide.
Two Newfoundland and Labrador suicide awareness advocates are sounding the alarm about a mental health care system that they say is not working.
Tanya Joy said a family member was recently brought to the Waterford Hospital in St. John's after expressing suicidal thoughts. Joy said her family member was not put on suicide watch, but instead was sent home and told to call their family doctor.
"My family member was told, 'If you stay here in the Waterford, you will be left in a room to yourself all night,'" Joy said in an interview with Newfoundland Morning. "How comforting is that?"
Joy lost her brother to suicide in 2019. She's a suicide prevention advocate, and recently organized a 50-kilometre trail race to raise awareness around suicide.
She said she was disappointed and hurt when her family member reached out but didn't get the help they needed. She turned to fellow suicide prevention advocate Tina Davies for assistance.
Davies did a suicide intervention with Joy's family member, and then helped them develop a plan to ensure their short-term safety. Joy says Davies saved her family member's life.
Davies, an Outer Cove resident who lost her son to suicide in 1995, runs Richard's Legacy Foundation, an organization that helps people affected by the suicide of a loved one. She trains people in suicide intervention and also does suicide interventions herself.
Joy said her family member is a fighter, and is taking action on the resources that Davies gave them.
She said her family member's experience at the Waterford highlights the ongoing issues affecting people in need of mental health care in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"We need to find solutions to fix this, because these people that are suffering, they just need to know that one person can help them. They want the help. That's why they go to these places and they're not receiving it."
Fixing the system
Davies described Joy's family member's experience as "common."
"I don't like to say that, but it's true. We have a system that is broken," she said.
The suicide rate in Newfoundland and Labrador has tripled since the 1980s, and is among the highest in Canada, according to researcher Nathaniel Pollock.
Davies said she's accompanied many clients on visits to the Waterford, and many of them have been turned away.
"They're released, you know, back on their own with nobody at home after attempting to take their life," she said. "Many of them end up taking their lives."
She also said the Waterford does not have suicide watch.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Eastern Health said the decision to treat someone on an in-patient or out-patient basis is "dependent on a wide variety of factors that are evidence-based and specific to each individual, with a view to determining the most effective and appropriate treatment option."
The statement said some patients may be placed in a private room while waiting for assessment, and individuals who are triaged as "high or medium-risk for suicide" are placed in a secure area "where they are under constant observation."
The statement also said patients are given the information for the Mobile Crisis Response Team and the Mental Health Crisis Line, among other resources.
In a later statement, Eastern Health clarified that there are clinical staff present when people triaged as high or medium risk for suicide are placed in a secured area.
"When an assessment indicates that a client requires more than routine observation, a higher level of observation is implemented. The decision to use higher levels of observation must balance the safety and the therapeutic benefits to the client."
Davies said she wants to see changes in protocol that would see someone in a situation like Joy's family member admitted to hospital.
"We encourage people to reach out, to get help … and when they do, they're disappointed," she said. "And it's not the people that work in the system. It's the system itself."
Where to get help:
Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) | crisisservicescanada.ca
In Quebec (French): Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868 (phone), live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca
Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre