N.W.T.'s mental health care system failed our son, say grieving parents

The family of 19-year-old Timothy Henderson, who died Sunday of self-inflicted injuries, say the territory's mental health system should have done more to help the teen.

Timothy Henderson, 19, died Sunday after sustaining self-inflicted injuries

The family of a 19-year-old Yellowknifer who died of self-inflicted injuries says the territory's health care system should have done more to help the teen.

Timothy Henderson, 19, died Sunday after being taken off life-support after sustaining self-inflicted injuries.

Timothy Henderson, 19, of Yellowknife, died Sunday of self-inflicted injuries. Parents say the teen was repeatedly hospitalized for mental health care but was always released within a few days without a long-term care plan put in place or follow-up appointments made. (submitted)

Timothy's parents don't believe the teen meant to die. They say it was a cry for help gone wrong, and that they've been told by health care professionals that Timothy used self-harm as a stress relief.

Since the beginning of this year, Timothy's self-harm activities escalated, and the teen sought admission to psychiatric wards in both Edmonton and Yellowknife, believing to be at risk of self-harm. Timothy's parents say the teen was always released within a few days, without a long-term care plan put in place or follow-up appointments made.

"Timothy was continually dismissed and invalidated," the teen's father, Ian Henderson told CBC News on Monday.

"How often does a child have to reach out? How often do they expect that they will be dismissed before someone begins to take notice? How do we stop the body count?" 

'Frustrated with the lack of resources'

Timothy Henderson struggled with symptoms of Aspergers and ADHD. 

Henderson struggled with symptoms of Aspergers and ADHD. (Timothy Henderson/Facebook)
"He was such an unique, intelligent, brilliant young fellow who as a very, very young child had different struggles in life but continually overcame them," said the teen's mother, Connie Boraski.

She says the system began failing Timothy at age 17, when the teen no longer qualified for pediatric care.

"Timothy became frustrated with the lack of resources and validation by his mental health practitioners. He developed deep depression and severe mood swings," said Boraski.

"Timothy began to lose hope that the help he was seeking would ever be available."

She says Timothy gave up on the health care system earlier this month. Timothy had sought admission into Stanton Territorial Hospital, expressing suicidal thoughts. The 19-year-old acted on those thoughts while at the hospital. Doctors released the teen two days later.

Doctors can involuntarily hospitalize patients at risk of harming themselves for up to 48 hours under the N.W.T.'s Mental Health Act.

'Absolutely nothing'

James Boraski, Timothy Henderson's stepfather, said Timothy was discharged with "no plans for a follow-up consult or a meeting or a scheduled appointment with his psychiatrist that he'd been seeing. Absolutely nothing." 

Timothy's parents don't believe the teen meant to die. (James MacKenzie)
This is not the first time mental health services in the Northwest Territories have been criticized. In 2009, Julian Tologanak was taken by RCMP to Stanton Territorial Hospital after threatening to take his own life. After a psychiatric assessment, he was released the next morning and he boarded a plane back to his home community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, and jumped out while in flight.

A coroner's inquest jury in that case called on the Northwest Territories and Nunavut governments to review their mental health legislation and focus more on patient care. 

In 2013, N.W.T. Chief Coroner Cathy Menard called on the Stanton Territorial Health Authority to better track patients who attend the emergency room on a recurring basis for suicide-related issues. It was one of several recommendations stemming from the inquest into the shooting death of Karen Lander in Yellowknife in 2012.

Lander barricaded herself in her friend's home with multiple firearms and threatened to take her own life. She charged at police and was shot and killed.

Not just a northern problem

CBC News asked the N.W.T. Department of Health and Social Services for general information on what sort of plans are put in place when suicidal patients are discharged from the psychiatric ward. The department has yet to respond.

Chris Summerville, CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada and a board member of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, says a lack of mental health care isn't just a northern problem.

"All over Canada, regional health authorities struggle with having enough resources and capacity," he says. "We'll never be able to prevent every suicide, but there should be contingency emergency measures put in place. They shouldn't merely be released from hospital. There should have been future mental health appointments made."

Timothy's family says they are grateful to the medical team at the University of Alberta Hospital in Edmonton, who cared for the teen on life support.

"The incredible care and professionalism and knowledge that has been extended to us this last week has been simply overwhelming," said Ian. "But it's just so unfortunate that these resources were not available to Timothy." 

A funeral service for Timothy Henderson will be held on Saturday, May 2 at 2:30 p.m. at the DND Gym in Yellowknife.

The NWT Helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week toll-free at 1-800-661-0844. In an emergency, contact your local health centre, or the RCMP.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?