Edmonton bikers support teenager struggling with severe mental illness

An Edmonton boy is still struggling to get the mental health support he needs after his story was made public earlier this month. But this weekend, the 15-year-old learned he has abundant support from the community.

Family fighting to find adequate mental health care for 15-year-old son

More than 50 people on motorcycles showed up to support an Edmonton boy on Sunday afternoon. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

An Edmonton boy is still struggling to get the mental health support he needs, after his story was made public earlier this month. But this weekend, the 15-year-old learned he has support from the community in abundance.

A pack of about 45 motorcycles rolled up to his home on Sunday afternoon in a show of solidarity as he struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression triggered by severe bullying.

Biker groups Bullying Enns and Bikers Against Bullying took him for a ride around the city's south end and the meet up wasn't their first interaction.

Earlier this month, they showed up at the Royal Alexandra Hospital where the teen had a week-long stay. They talked to him over the phone, offering words of encouragement.

"We just had a little chat and told him we're there for him and keep up the good fight," said Steve Enns, president of Bullying Enns.

"We've made it very clear that we're a call away and there's lots of people that care."

The 15-year-old boy got a visit from the bikers while he was in hospital earlier this month. (Heather Gillis)

The boy's mother, Heather Gillis, was overwhelmed by the number of bikers who showed up for her son on Sunday.

He has attempted suicide eight times since July, and Gillis said finding the mental health support he needs has been challenging. She has been looking for inpatient care, as she fears her son will harm himself or take his own life if he's left alone.

The brief stay at the Royal Alex was the closest they've come to finding long-term inpatient care. The family was told the teen's illness isn't acute enough to warrant a lengthy stay in hospital, Gillis said.

"He's too high of a risk to go into a day facility because they release you," she said. "They say he's too much for that, he's too little for a hospital."

Heather Gillis has been fighting to get adequate mental health care for her son. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

The family recently obtained a 24-hour nurse, who supervises the boy, checking in every 10 minutes at night. But Gillis said only a treatment centre can provide the tools he needs to cope.

She's looking into places that allow her son to come home at nights or on weekends but noted the wait time for a bed in those facilities is up to a year.

She said the family is hopeful the treatment centres will see how severe his condition is.

"We hope that one of them will accept him, but it's an everyday struggle. If they say no, we honestly don't know what we'll do because he needs that intensive therapy.

"And we can't afford it privately — that is such an expensive thing to ask a family to pay for."

Gillis said increased mental health support is needed.

"I will advocate until I'm blue in the face because there is such a need," she said. "If this happens to my son and my family's going through this, I can't imagine what's happening to those families who don't have a voice to stand like I do and say 'this is not okay, we need more help.'"

The bikers want to show the teen he's not alone, says Steve Enns, president of Bullying Enns. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)


Anna McMillan


Anna McMillan is a reporter at CBC Edmonton. You can reach her at anna.mcmillan@cbc.ca