Campaign shares personal stories of struggling with Nova Scotia mental-health system
'I really believe in people's ability to recover and thrive if given the correct services that they need'
Carolyn Fox's daughter, Cayley, had good grades, played varsity rugby, enjoyed an active social life and was preparing to graduate from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, but the 21-year-old took her own life in January 2016.
Now, she's story No. 3 in an online campaign illustrating the experiences of individuals who have fallen through the cracks of Nova Scotia's mental-health system.
The initiative — known as 60 Days, 60 Stories — calls for a client-centred mental-health system and an approach based on patient needs, not administrative needs such as budgeting and scheduling.
Laurel Walker, a mental-health advocate who started the project, said that means caring for someone who walks into an ER or calls a crisis line in the same way one would want a family member or a friend cared for.
"How would you want your mother treated?" she said. "How would you want one of your loved ones treated if they're in crisis and needing help?"
The Facebook campaign launched this week under the name #HowManyNSHA-IWK and it had more than 560 members as of Tuesday afternoon.
The goal is to share a different mental-health story every day for 60 days and people are being encouraged to talk about their experiences.
Fox said her daughter started cutting herself when she was in Grade 12, but received counselling and started taking medication to deal with her anxiety. Her mother believed it was working until she got a call about a crisis in December 2015.
"I had told her roommate, 'Yes, go to the emergency room, go with her and we'll meet her there,' but we were called within an hour saying, 'No, they sent her home,'" said Fox.
What Fox didn't know was that her daughter had been sent home from the ER twice before.
"If someone's coming into the hospital and they're having an anxiety attack or if they are suffering from depression, they need to be kept there, and they can't be kept in the waiting room," said Fox.
Losing hope in the system
The Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) and the IWK informed their staff about the campaign before it began.
An internal memo obtained by CBC News outlines the pros and cons of the campaign, expresses the need for frontline workers and managers in mental health and addictions to feel valued in light of the negative attention the campaign may attract, and makes clear the health authority's plan to listen and correct potentially dangerous information.
"The most important consideration is that people may lose hope in the system," reads the unsigned memo.
Lindsay Peach, vice-president of integrated health services for the NSHA, said the campaign may be an opportunity to hear from people who have not contacted the health authority directly.
She also said the campaign could have unwanted side effects.
"Some individuals sharing stories can have triggers for other individuals who may be experiencing mental illness or addictions, so we need to be aware of that," said Peach.
"Sharing of stories for the individuals who share them can sometimes be overwhelming."
She said being patient-centred is not a program that gets implemented, but something that's ingrained in the work of health-care providers.
'Mental illness is treatable'
NSHA officials have offered to meet with Walker, a request she said she's happy to accommodate.
Walker said while it's positive that health-care administrators are listening, they also need to act.
"The fact is that suicide is preventable and mental illness is treatable and I really believe in people's ability to recover and thrive if given the correct services that they need," she said.
If you are in distress or considering suicide, there are places to turn for support. Nova Scotia's Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team can be reached at 1-888-429-8167 or 902-429-8167 or Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention also has information about where to find help.