Nova Scotia

Mother claims mental-health system failed son

The mother of a 21-year-old Nova Scotia man who took his life is calling for a provincial inquiry into how suicidal patients are treated by mental-health professionals.
Fran Morrison says an inquiry would ensure improvements are made. (CBC)

The mother of a 21-year-old Nova Scotia man who took his life is calling for a provincial inquiry into how suicidal patients are treated by mental-health professionals.

Fran Morrison said she wants to ensure that no one else experiences what her family went through.

"I want an inquiry into his case to find out where the cracks are so the cracks can be filled and other unnecessary deaths are not going to happen, because no parent should have to live this horrific nightmare that we're living with every day," she told CBC News.

The Morrisons received an alarming text message from their son, Eric, one day in December 2010. He said he loved them and apologized that he was overcome with thoughts of dying.

Fran Morrison said she called 911, then she and her husband jumped in their car and drove from Cape Breton to the Halifax region to see Eric.

They took Eric to Dartmouth General Hospital, which referred him to the psychiatric emergency unit in Halifax.

Morrison claims that's where the system broke down.

"We did what we could and needed to do. The police did what they were supposed to do. They took it very seriously. And what did the doctors and mental health do? Nothing," she said.

Morrison said Eric was seen by a psychiatrist in training and a social worker. His file was marked "urgent," as he had a history of suicide attempts and a family history of mental illness.

But Morrison said Eric never met with a psychiatrist.

The 21-year-old killed himself less than two months later.

Morrison filed a complaint about the psychiatric resident with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Nova Scotia. She said the professional association found no wrongdoing and dismissed her complaint.

She filed a complaint with the Nova Scotia Association of Social Workers. She said that one is still being assessed.

Letter from director

Morrison also met with Dr. Ian Slayter, director of psychiatric services for Capital Health, to express her concerns about her son's care.

"We could have done more to help him," Slayter wrote in a letter to the Morrisons last May.

Health Minister Maureen MacDonald won't discuss the case. However, she said improvements are needed and work is underway to address gaps in service.

"I am wanting to see improvements in our mental-health system," MacDonald said Thursday.

Morrison said she believes an inquiry would be the best way to ensure those improvements are made.

She said she's been in contact with the parents of other young men who killed themselves after seeking treatment for suicidal thoughts.

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