Nfld. & Labrador

Vigil to honour, advocate for Waterford Hospital patients

A mental health coalition is staging a vigil at Bowring Park on Monday evening to honour Waterford Hospital patients, past and present, particularly those who have committed suicide.
Meaghan Barnhill is co-chair of the Community Coalition for Mental Health in St. John's. (CBC)

A Newfoundland and Labrador mental health coalition wants to honour Waterford Hospital patients, past and present, particularly those who have committed suicide.

The Community Coalition for Mental Health says the event, taking place Monday evening at Bowring Park in St. John's, will be part memorial, part demonstration.

"It's activism, it's a memorial, it is also hope for people who are currently struggling," said coalition co-chair Meaghan Barnhill.

"The point is really to show support to the people struggling, and it's also to bring light to the issue of the Waterford."

While Barnhill believes staff are doing a fantastic job, she wants to see the hospital adopt a recovery model approach, which involves changing the way an individual patient acts, thinks and feels about themselves. 

"It is the oldest mental hospital in North America and it's not filling its role to the best that a new building could. We're telling government that we want more supports for the staff."

The Waterford Hospital building in St. John's is the oldest mental hospital in North America. Barnhill says it's impossible to know how many patients have taken their own life there. (CBC)
While it's hard to know just how many Waterford Hospital patients committed suicide over the years, Barnhill's heard from a number of Community Coalition members who have a grandparent or ancestor who died there.

Barnhill said many of those families don't know where their relatives are buried, and the Coalition hopes to establish a database to record the names of those patients.  

"[Tonight is] really to talk about those people, to recognize the pain and suffering they went through, and to recognize their choice and to remember them. And to give hope to those people who are still around, who might be in the audience tonight, who might be thinking about [suicide] as well," she said. 

The event is open to the public, and Barnhill encourages anyone who's been effected by mental health to attend. 

It starts at 7 p.m. at the Bowring Park amphitheatre.