Nova Scotia

Parents plead for better mental-health services on anniversary of son's death

The Bedford, N.S., parents of a 24-year-old man who walked out of a Halifax hospital and took his own life are pleading for better mental-health services for families struggling with a mental illness.

'It's an epidemic and changes do need to be made,' says Yanna Conway

Russ and Yanna Conway are pleading for better mental-health supports a year after their son Garret took his own life. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Russ and Yanna Conway marked the first anniversary of their son Garret's suicide by pleading with the McNeil government to provide more and better services to families struggling with mental-health problems.

"We're passionate and even though it's painful to be here on the one-year anniversary of the date that it happened, we would consider it no greater honour than to help fight for a change in what is taking place in this province," Russ Conway told reporters Wednesday at a news conference organized by the PC caucus.

According to the Conways, the emergency department at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax released their 24-year-old son after having kept him overnight.

He had been taken by ambulance to the downtown hospital from the Cobequid Community Health Centre after being treated for taking too much medication.

The Bedford, N.S., parents say he had been assessed at a low risk for suicide, despite the overdose and three previous suicide attempts and an involuntary admission to treatment six months previous. His younger brother picked him up and took him home.

"Within two hours our son [Garret] had taken his life," said Russ Conway.

Garret Conway, shown here in this photo being held by his parents, killed himself in 2018 shortly after his family says he released from the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax following an overdose. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Russ and Yanna Conway, who were out of the country when they were notified Garret had been taken to the Cobequid health centre, scrambled to get back to Nova Scotia.

"Being thousands of miles away, trying not to panic and arrange to get home, we both agreed surely they'll review the records, they'll see that he was involuntarily admitted not long ago, they'll hold him till we come home," said Russ Conway.

"Naively, we trusted that those records would be reviewed, those facts would be taken into consideration."

But he was released less than 24 hours after being transported from the Cobequid health centre and received into the QEII hospital.

Neither can understand why their son was discharged without having been seen by a psychiatrist.

Yanna Conway described her son as "courageous" and "smart."

"He was an extremely talented young songwriter who loved music and he wrote numerous songs about his journey through depression, through drug addiction and his journey in rehab," she said.

Want changes to law

According to his parents, Garret was in and out of treatment over the last four years of his life, including rehabilitation for a cocaine addiction.

Although they said he did, at times, receive "excellent" care and they don't hold anyone personally responsible for his death, both feel mental-health programs and services are spread thin and additional resources are needed.

The couple would also like to see changes to the Mental Health Act so that parents, even those with adult children, would be included in decisions and notified if their children are in danger.

"It's an epidemic and changes do need to be made," said Yanna Conway.

Premier Stephen McNeil said Wednesday the government continues to put money into mental health in every budget.

"We need to continue to make those investments, not only in the health-care system but the investments in the school system for early identification to try to deal with the issue at the onset," he said.

"That doesn't change the fact that there are families who are dealing with what is unthinkable."