Teen released from mental health unit days before death

The death of a teenage girl who was found unconscious in the Mill Creek Ravine is raising questions about how she was treated by the hospital and youth shelters in the last days of her life.

Shanoa Waskahat, 18, died in hospital after she was found by two cyclists in the Mill Creek Ravine on April 27.

According to friends, Waskahat suffered from depression. The teen was sometimes suicidal and had been forced a number of times into mental health units for her own protection, under what is known as a Form 10.

"I saw her the day before she passed away," said 16-year-old Larissa Baxter, one of Waskahat's friends. "She just looked really down and depressed and I knew something was wrong with her but I didn't know how to help her."

A week before Waskahat died, Edmonton police officers were so concerned about her well-being that they placed her in the mental health unit of an Edmonton hospital.

She was released several days later and returned to the Youth Emergency Shelter, a place where she had sought help over the past 2½ years.

However, she showed up "absolutely staggering drunk," according to Deb Cautley, executive director of the Youth Emergency Shelter Society. Staff tried to get Waskahat to sober up but she left, only to return in the evening looking for a place to sleep.

Cautley says she was still highly intoxicated.

"After two and a half years of working with Shanoa, we had said, 'You know what, when you come here and you're that drunk, and that stoned, we can't work with you because you're out of control,'" she said. "Because she was too aggressive and the staff were spending all their time with Shanoa and not with the other 17 kids."

Cautley said staff then drove Waskahat to the Hope Mission, which operates a youth shelter. The teen had been banned from the centre before but she was allowed to stay that night.

The next morning Waskahat told staff that she wanted to turn her life around, according to Doug Rutten, who runs the Hope Mission Youth Shelter.

"She wanted to meet up to get into a program or detox," he said. "At the time, I would have been encouraged if I heard her say that because she was obviously struggling. In light of what happened, definitely tragic."

But that never happened. Waskahat died two days later.

"From what the police told us, they told that they found her with an empty bottle of prescription medication, a bottle of liquor," said Larissa Baxter. "I heard from people that were with her that night that she was drinking Everclear (a brand of liquor) like water."

Mandy Waskahat believes the hospital never should have released her cousin.

"If they hadn't have let her out, she wouldn't have passed away," Waskahat said. "They should not have let her out."

Cautley, from the Youth Emergency Shelter, also blames the hospital.

"I'm really angry. I'm very angry," she said. "The number of times that little girl had a Form 10 and got let out."

But some are laying the blame on Cautley's agency. While youth worker Mark Cherrington wonders why the hospital released Waskahat, he believes YESS should have directed her somewhere more suitable to her needs than Hope Mission.

"Why not detox? Why not a hospital? Why not call the mental health crisis team?" he asked. "Why did they decide to put her in a van and drive her to the Hope Mission and say 'good luck.'"

Cautley said her agency believes they did everything they could for Waskahat.

"We're not always the place. We can't take every kid," she said.

However, Cherrington argues that Waskahat didn't have the relationship with Hope Mission that she had with the Youth Emergency Shelter.

"The fact of the matter is that this girl passed away 500 metres away from the doorsteps of YESS because she had an emotional connection with them."

Why Waskahat was released from the mental health ward remains unanswered at this point. Alberta Health Services cited privacy issues when declining comment on the teen's case.

Police are treating Waskahat's death as suspicious. They are awaiting the results of toxicology tests before releasing the cause of death.

[ [ [['xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx', 11]], '27013743', '0' ], [ [['keyword', 9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999]], 'videoID', '1', 'overwrite-pre-description', 'overwrite-link-string', 'overwrite-link-url' ] ]