Signal Hill suicide attempt was cry for help: Survivor of crash takes her life

Hailey Baker, 20, took her own life early September, after struggling with mental health for years. CBC's Meghan McCabe looks back at months of conversations about Baker's story.

Hailey Baker, 20, was in and out of hospital in St. John's for months before her death

The survivor of last April's Signal Hill crash took her own life. Hailey Baker's friend Dana Knight told her friend's story to CBC News. 2:09

When Hailey Baker tried to kill herself, she made national news.

The 20-year-old drove her car off a cliff on Signal Hill in April, in an attempt to take her own life. She survived, and wanted to tell her story.

But three weeks ago, her story came to an end.

Hailey Baker, 20, lost her battle with mental illness in her home in C.B.S. on Sept. 6. (Hailey Baker/Facebook)

According to her obituary, Baker "lost her battle with mental illness" at her home in St. John's on Sept. 6.

Her family said Baker tried to end her life eight times over the past year or so.

Sept. 6 was the ninth — and final — attempt.

Hailey Baker's car on the side of Signal Hill Apr. 3. Baker drove her car off the cliff that morning. (Katie Breen/CBC )

'There needs to be a change'

Less than two weeks after Baker drove her car off Signal Hill, she sent an email to CBC that broke my heart.

"Apr. 3 I drove off Signal Hill. I was put into ICU in serious condition after my accident that should [have] been fatal … I'm telling you this because there needs to be a change in the mental health system," she said in the email.

That was the first of multiple conversations between myself and Baker, over the next few months.

"She was an amazing person," says Hailey Baker's friend Dana Knight. (Hailey Baker/Facebook)

Baker talked about her struggle with borderline personality disorder, and said she felt she had to drive her car off Signal Hill to get help with her mental illness.

Yet less than two weeks later, they were releasing her against her will.

'I am not ready'

"One of the doctors said if I really wanted to kill myself, I would have done it in the hospital," Baker told me over the phone from the Health Sciences Centre psychiatric ward in St. John's that Thursday afternoon.

Baker said she was begging for treatment, telling doctors, "I am not ready, I cannot leave, I am not safe."

I don't want to be that girl.- Hailey Baker

But she said the doctors insisted she was ready to leave the hospital.

Baker and I planned to meet the next day so she could share her story, because she wanted to show people that the mental health care system in Newfoundland and Labrador was failing her.

Late Friday afternoon, she said she wasn't going to be released after all, and would be in touch when she was ready.

We spoke again a few days later, when Baker was in the Waterford Hospital, and said she was "doing OK."

'Worried about my name'

Baker said she still wanted to share her story, but was worried about her prospects if she spoke publicly.

"I'm just worried about my name and what that will do for my future career," she said.

Hailey Baker had wanted to tell her story to CBC News so others would know they weren't alone. (Hailey Baker/Facebook)

"I don't want to be that girl."

By June she said she was doing a lot better, in a program at Stella's Circle. In July, she said she had been invited to speak at an event about her mental illness, and was ready to talk publicly.

She was going to get back to me with the date of the event and to set up an interview.

I never heard from her again. 

'She would have made a big change'

Baker's friends started posting on her Facebook page after she died.

Dana Knight, 19, said she wanted to help tell her friend's story, in the hopes it could help other people facing similar struggles — and shine a light on the problems with mental health care in the province.

Dana Knight, 19, says she still texts Hailey's phone every day because she can't believe her friend is gone. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The two became friends during the summer of 2015, when Knight was hospitalized for an eating disorder.

"It's not that they did everything they could, there's so much more they could have done. And they did not do it," said Knight.

"She would have made a big change, and she made a big impact already. It's just not fair."

In an email to CBC News Tuesday evening, Eastern Health offered condolences to Baker's family and friends.

Long-term hospitalization has not been shown to improve outcomes for patients with borderline personality disorder.- Eastern Health

While it would not comment on Baker specifically, the health authority said long-term hospitalization "has not been shown to improve outcomes for patients with borderline personality disorder."

It said treatment should be individualized, but individual and group therapy sessions focusing on coping skills, stress tolerance and tolerating negative emotions have yielded the best results. 

Eastern Health said anyone in the St. John's area experiencing a mental health issue can go to the Waterford Hospital at any time, or contact the mental health crisis line.

'She should have been there'

Knight found out Baker was back in hospital after another "attempt" mid-August, and that was the last time they spoke before Baker's death early September.

"To me she was invincible, she wasn't going to die, she wasn't going to let anything take her life from her, especially not herself," she said.

Friends and family held a ceremony for Hailey in St. John's on Sept. 13, followed by a balloon release at Signal Hill.

Knight said it was the first time it hit her that Baker was gone.

"She should have been there in person with us, we shouldn't have been saying 'goodbye,' and 'we love you,' and releasing balloons for her, we should have been doing it with her," said Knight.

"She should have been there."

About the Author

Meghan McCabe

Reporter

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