New Brunswick

Father of schizophrenic son demands better mental health care

Retired psychologist Albert Cyr says he is hopeful improvements are coming for families who need mental health services in New Brunswick.

Albert Cyr says mentally ill and their families face discrimination when trying to access care

Albert Cyr, a retired psychologist and father of a son with schizophrenia will share his experiences trying to access mental health services at the Moncton forum he also organized. (MentalHealthForum.ca)

Albert Cyr, a retired psychologist and chair of the mental health community advisory committee for Vitalité Health Network, says he is hopeful improvements are coming for families who need mental health services in New Brusnwick.

As the father of an adult son who has struggled with schizophrenia, Cyr wanted to organize the mental health forum happening this week in Moncton.

"We need to build the capacity in communities to provide early identification of illness and early treatment and that's the route to go if you want to revamp what happened to my son," he said in an interview on Information Morning Moncton on Wednesday.

Cyr says his son was diagnosed at the age of 16 and at first things went well with speedy treatment that worked.

There's a real discrimination towards people that suffer from an illness that affects their mental function.- Albert Cyr

"We marvelled at his quick return to school and of course we thought there was a mistake … he stopped his medication and relapsed and it took about three years to get back on his feet."

Cyr says his son returned to school again and did very well, earning top marks in his courses and university scholarships but things were going so well, he quit taking his medication again.

"He just took off at one point. That was a route that was very difficult and when he came back to hospitals in New Brunswick he was in and out for years … treatment was stopped."

Cyr says since his son wasn't a danger to himself or to others it was his decision whether to accept treatment.

"If he didn't want to have any treatment that was fine with the health care system and of course he deteriorated severely," he said.

Eventually Cyr says he turned to the justice system to get long term mental health care for his son, insisting that charges be brought against him.

"It was a very difficult route and I'm not the only parent that goes through that kind of ordeal. It's very stressful. It's very hard on the family and also once the child becomes an adult it becomes even more complicated."

Long wait lists a reality

Cyr says his adult son now lives in a semi-supervised home and is still on a waiting list for several services and programs.

Studies show that every year more than 28 per cent of young people, aged 20 to 29, experience a mental illness disorder but only one third of them will receive the service they need.

"There's a real discrimination towards people that suffer from an illness that affects their mental function," he said.

"There's a high human cost and also a high economic cost for the current policies and difficulties accessing mental health."

He says he is hopeful that forums like the one going on in Moncton through Friday will bring change to the health care system but he says there is a lot of catching up to do.

"In 2009 when I was so desperate and I couldn't access health care for my son, I said we need to talk as a society to change this … we need to provide good information because parents often feel ashamed, or guilty or have been blamed for the illness of their child and parents don't come forward to talk about it."

Cyr says there is a will from the Department of Health to improve access to mental health services, to involve parents of adult children in treatment and to introduce community treatment orders.

The next challenge he says, will be finding the resources to carry it out.

The forum will include an update on New Brunswick's Mental Health Strategic Plan.          

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