New Brunswick

Mental health system should've been fixed after report 12 years ago, advocate says

A retired judge who called for the transformation of New Brunswick’s mental health system 12 years ago, says nothing has been done to fix it.

Mental health advocate Mike McKee made 80 recommendations to transform the system, but says it was never fixed

Lexi Daken was a Grade 10 student at Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton. (Submitted by Chris Daken)

A retired judge who called for the "massive transformation" of New Brunswick's mental health system 12 years ago, says nothing has been done to fix it. 

In 2009, Mike McKee published his report, Together into the Future. He received input from more than 2,000 people, including service providers to people with mental illness and their families.

The report included 80 recommendations to revamp the mental health system in New Brunswick.

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

"It's obvious the system is broken and we need to address it," said McKee. 

"We have to decide, do we want to rebuild the house or do we just want to paint the living room?"

McKee's report aimed to make mental health a government priority for everyone and that it would be treated like any other illness "rather than continuing to be a poor second cousin."

'People want us to do more'

McKee, who's also a former cabinet minister in Frank McKenna's Liberal government, said he was disappointed to learn about the death of Lexi Daken last week. 

The Grade 10 student who had previously attempted suicide, was taken to the emergency room at Fredericton's Dr. Everett Chalmers Hospital on Feb. 18, by a school guidance counsellor who was concerned about her mental health.

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

Lexi took her own life less than a week later.

Lexi Daken, centre, with friends Darian Crouse, left, and Karly Crouse. (Submitted by Chris Daken)

"I don't remember really the last time my heart was troubled like this over someone that I didn't even know," said the mental health advocate.

"It's sad and it doesn't have to happen."

In order to fix the broken system, McKee said the province needs to stop reacting to situations like Lexi's and instead work with people living with mental health issues, Indigenous communities, the homeless and those living in rural areas.

Tragic death of a Fredericton teenager by suicide is raising alarm bells over lack of mental health treatment in this province

1 year ago
Duration 3:35
Sixteen-year-old Lexi Daken was a popular and gifted student who struggled with depression and anxiety. She tried to get help at the Chalmers Hospital emergency room. Barely a week later, Lexi was dead.

"People want us to do more than just tinker with the status quo."

If the 80 recommendations in his report had been implemented, McKee said the province would have already addressed the mental health needs of New Brunswickers. 

But it didn't.

McKee's report said children and youth should have access to in-province assessment, government departments should work collaboratively within a coordinated system and the province should also have a full range of effective services are available in community and correctional facilities.

"I'm not happy with the outcome or reaction."

Public inquiry won't happen

On Wednesday, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard told reporters the province will not call for a public inquiry into Lexi's suicide but will ask the child and youth advocate to review mental health services in New Brunswick.

McKee said he doesn't want to put his focus on whether their should be a public inquiry, but the report itself and how to prevent situations like this from happening again — such as more qualified psychologists inside New Brunswick schools. 

Health minister calls for 'review,' not public inquiry into Fredericton teen’s suicide

1 year ago
Duration 1:36
The New Brunswick government is not calling for a public inquiry into Lexi Daken’s suicide but will ask the child and youth advocate to review mental health services.

"We have far too many people who don't have the support, who don't have the treatment to avoid those situations occurring in the first place."

It's still not clear whether the public will ever know what happened during Lexi's eight-hour wait at the ER, or why she was allowed to leave without having received help.

McKee said it's possible they'll never know.

"People aren't going to put up with this," he said. "Enough is enough."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Marie Sutherland

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