From agony to advocacy: A mother's push for mental health services in Labrador
Pat Loder's son died in 2016
Before anyone noticed the crack, 19-year-old Jeff Loder had already fallen through.
It was about a month after he died, in the summer of 2016, when his parents discovered something on Jeff's medical file: this was not the first time he'd attempted to take his own life.
"We were all so shocked," said Jeff's mother, Pat Loder. "We learned that the system that we thought was in place was not actually in place."
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Loder said her son's medical records show he was escorted to the emergency room in Happy Valley-Goose Bay by an RCMP officer. He had a gun, and told the officer he wanted to end his life.
"We all assume that if someone had a suicidal attempt that they automatically go on a 24-hour watch," Loder said.
"That's not the case."
Instead, Jeff was sent home with a referral for mental health services. He never followed up and never told anyone about that night in the ER.
At first, the revelation haunted Pat. What if she had known? Could she have changed something?
Now, with a year's distance, she's focused on improving mental health care to keep other people from falling through the same crack as Jeff.
"I'm not trying to advocate in his name now, but we've learned a lot through losing him," she said.
Loder is part of a committee in Happy Valley-Goose Bay working on establishing a mental health coalition.
Their work is in response to the provincial all-party committee on mental health. Loder said the idea is to set up an organization similar to the coalition in Labrador West, with members of the public, RCMP, health-care workers, and outreach groups all coming together to improve access to mental health services.
"If every agency is doing their own thing," she said, "it's like all wheels are spinning in the mud."
If I can get up and stand up and tell my story, I'm hoping other families will have the strength tocome forward with us.- Pat Loder
Loder said there is still much to do, but things are improving.
She met with Labrador Grenfell Health staff at the hospital in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and is happy a new policy has been adopted.
In an email to CBC, a spokesperson said the health authority "is continuing to work on strengthening its capacity for suicide prevention in the region," and "there are times when … health-care professionals will notify family members or loved ones, without an individual's consent, in an effort to prevent or reduce a risk of serious harm."
Still, Loder said, there's a need for more resources to help people in crises, because emergency rooms aren't equipped to deal with ongoing mental health problems.
Healing and helping
Ever since Jeff died, people have been approaching his mother to talk about their own experience with mental health. She doesn't know why — but people seem to feel comfortable telling her about their struggles.
Sometimes they're people Jeff's age, other times they're parents worried about their children.
"They just come and tell me their stories," Loder said.
It's why she wants to help change things. It's too late for Jeff, but she wants to make sure no one else is released from hospital before it's safe. That no one else keeps such a painful secret.
"If I can get up and stand up and tell my story, I'm hoping other families will have the strength to come forward with us," she said.
"We have to stop the struggle."