Nfld. & Labrador

'This is mom's cry for help too': A suicidal daughter and a plea for action in N.L.

McKenzie Strait, 19, has been diagnosed with mental illnesses, and has attempted suicide several times. She says the health care system in N.L. is failing her.

McKenzie Strait, 19, has tried to take her own life five times this year — most recently on Monday

Mother and daughter's struggle with suicide attempts, mental health concerns

6 years ago
Duration 3:28
McKenzie Strait, 19, has tried to take her own life five times this year. Her mother, Christine, wants there to be greater support.

Fresh stitches on self-inflicted wounds stick out of 19-year-old McKenzie Strait's arm as she and her mother, Christine, chronicle their dealings with a mental health-care system in St. John's they say is failing.

"It's very difficult to keep your own life in your own hands. Especially when you don't want it," McKenzie Strait told CBC News on Sunday.   

She said she's battled an eating disorder, and the anxiety and depression that go along with it, for the past decade — since she was eight.

During a two-month stay at Homewood Health Centre in Ontario for treatment last year, she said lengthy psychiatric evaluations led to her being diagnosed with major depressive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and atypical anorexia.

In a 30-minute psychiatric evaluation with Eastern Health more recently, she said she was told she has borderline personality disorder — and she fears that label means doctors here don't take her seriously.

'Attention-seeking'

"They see you as, 'well you want to die and you're telling someone, well then that's attention-seeking.' A thing with borderline personality disorder is attention-seeking," said Strait.

"You can tell someone you want to hurt yourself, that you want to die, that you'll do it. But they just see that as attention-seeking. Whereas I don't feel like it's like that."

McKenzie Strait posted this photo of herself on Facebook in October. A month later, she was in hospital after trying to commit suicide. (McKenzie Strait/Facebook)

Strait said she has tried to kill herself four times in the past year. She made a fifth attempt on Monday night — a day after telling CBC News the system is failing her — and remained in hospital for treatment Wednesday afternoon.

Suicidal thoughts take over her days. Yet she said when she tells health-care professionals in local hospitals how she feels, they dismiss her.

When asked what's going through her mind when she tries to end her life, McKenzie said, "It's a lot of things," adding that she feels "just overwhelmed."

"I have very bad trauma history, with not only my childhood but also with the systems here. And the way that they work, and the way that they just treat people."

'It's killing me, it's killing her'

Strait said the knowledge that she's loved, and shouldn't kill herself, is in there somewhere.

"I can reach it. But then the other thoughts just overpower it."

This is mom's cry for help, too.- Christine Strait

Sitting next to her daughter, tears stream down Christine Strait's face.

"I think she can reach it and it is reachable if she gets the help she needs. When someone is saying to you, 'I don't feel worthy, I don't want to live, I just want to die,' that to me is, 'take me seriously, please, help me,' and she needs this help."

Help both mother and daughter said they aren't finding in St. John's.

Christine Strait is in tears as she describes her fears about her daughter ending her life. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

"She's been discharged several times where there's no one offering any help outside of this. And if it continues, you know it's going to be a cycle that may have a devastating end," said Christine Strait. 

"I don't want another suicide attempt. Because that's, it's killing me, it's killing her," she said.

"This is mom's cry for help too, because I need her to get help now. And I need someone out there to say, 'McKenzie, we take you seriously, McKenzie, we hear what you're saying, and we're going to help you.'"

Two terrible, terrible weeks

In mid-November, McKenzie Strait cut herself, and ended up at the short stay unit of the Waterford Hospital, at her request.

A week later, she said she was told they were going to adjust her medications and send her home. 

"After they said that and basically just told me there was nothing they were going to do for me, again, I kind of went into a dissociative episode," she said.

"Where, in my room, like my dinner tray was there, so I took the plastic knife and re-cut open my arm."

McKenzie Strait says she asked to be transferred to the short stay unit of the Waterford Hospital earlier in November, and wanted to stay longer. (CBC)

She hid the cuts, discharged herself, and later that night, on Nov. 22, attempted to end her life again, sending her back to the Health Sciences Centre.

Strait was sent home three days later. On Monday, Nov. 28. she made her fifth suicide attempt, and was hospitalized again.

"It's very hard on me because I don't want to lose my daughter," said Christine Strait. "That's my biggest fear. So I want to get her the help that she needs."

Gaps in the system? 

Eastern Health has said that long-term hospitalization is not an effective treatment for borderline personality disorder, and that a treatment called dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) has been known to work well.

"Which focuses on improving coping skills, increasing stress tolerance, learning to tolerate intense negative emotion and decreasing life-threatening behaviours," said a spokesperson for the health authority. 

If people with mental illnesses could do it on their own there would be no mental illnesses because no one chooses this.- McKenzie Strait, 19

Eastern Health said it offers individualized treatment through therapy and group therapy, has a 24-hour mental health crisis line, and a mobile crisis response unit. 

McKenzie and Christine Strait said DBT is helpful, but they were told they would have to wait until February for treatment — so McKenzie leaves the hospital feeling suicidal, and on her mother's watch.

They believe therapy should be easier to access, and say a residential treatment program for people with mental illness would also be helpful.

"If people with mental illnesses could do it on their own there would be no mental illnesses because no one chooses this," McKenzie said. 

Christine Strait said she worries if the system doesn't improve soon, it'll be too late for her daughter.

"I'm afraid that she will be successful in the suicide attempts," she said. "I don't want to continue this cycle because I do believe that will be the outcome."

Resources

Eastern Health's confidential, 24-hour mental health crisis phone line is 1-888-737-4668.

The health authority also operates a mobile crisis response team that can respond in-home, or at a designated meeting area in the St. John's region. That service is available from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m. seven days a week.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meghan McCabe is a former journalist who worked with CBC News in St. John's.

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