Distraught mothers decry lack of N.L. services for suicidal teens

The mothers of two Newfoundland and Labrador children with severe mental illnesses say it is appalling that they will have to leave the province to find medical treatment.
Two mothers praise staff at the Janeway children's hospital, but say it lacks resources for severely mentally ill adolescents. ((CBC))

The mothers of two Newfoundland and Labrador children with severe mental illnesses say it is appalling that they will have to leave the province to find medical treatment.

The mothers, the identities of whom CBC News is protecting, say  Newfoundland and Labrador desperately needs a long-term facility to care for distraught children and adolescents.

In both cases, teenage girls had attempted suicide by overdosing with drugs, mostly household painkillers.

"We were scared to death," said the mother of a girl who, at 13, had secretly hoarded drugs like Tylenol and Sinutab until she had enough for a near-lethal cocktail.

The woman's daughter was diagnosed with depression, and the family was introduced to a world they did not know existed.

"She battles depression. It shaped her at a young age. At this point," the mother said in an interview, "she's still hospitalized ... She can't function outside of hospital. She won't even entertain the notion of going to school. She can't be around people."

The teen is receiving care at the Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John's, the only pediatric hospital in the province.

However, the hospital lacks the resources to provide full care to adolescents with severe mental health problems.

'There is no programming'

"The doctors and the nurses that are there are wonderful to her. They're very sympathetic to us ... they've become family to us," the mother said.

"But there is no programming. She is there because it's a safe place for her to be, where the chances of her following through on a suicidal threat are virtually nil."

The case resounds with a second mother, whose teenage daughter has made eight suicide attempts. In the first attempt, the girl swallowed about 60 pills she had bought from a neighbourhood pharmacy.

"People suffering from mental illness are not getting the help they need; they're basically being babysat to try to stop them from hurting themselves," said the second mother, whose daughter is also being treated at the Janeway's psychiatric wing.

In addition to attempting to cope with her daughter's suicidal tendencies, the mother also learned that her daughter had secretly been cutting herself for years.

"Taking apart razors, scissors, screwdrivers - anything that she could find that had a sharp edge, [including] breaking a picture frame," she said.

"She admitted she wanted to stop doing it but she just couldn't."

Both women want their children to receive the appropriate treatment, but are upset that the girls will have to be sent out of the province to get it.

"Sending a child away that's suffering from depression and anxiety and tearing her away from her family and friends and anybody she knows, I really think that would be counterproductive," the second mother said.

Health Minister Ross Wiseman insists there is not enough need for a long-term facility in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"You know, the numbers that have been presented thus far through the health authorities say it happens very rarely and when words such as 'rarely' are used, that indicates that it isn't a large number," Wiseman said.