Nova Scotia

Mom worried after mentally ill son leaves hospital, posts photo with gun

A Cape Breton woman said she's concerned her 18-year-old son's mental health needs aren't being met at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. She said if her son was considered an adult, he could get better mental-health services in his community of Sydney, N.S.

'This is how heads get lopped off on Greyhound buses,' says mother

The Garron Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health is a 14-bed in-patient unit at the IWK Health Centre. (CBC)

A Sydney, N.S., woman is worried about the safety of her son and the public after he shared a photo of himself with a gun after he was released unsupervised from the mental health unit of a Halifax hospital.

Earlier this year, her 18-year-old son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which combines episodes of depression with mania. After the diagnosis, because he is under 19, he was sent to the Garron Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, a 14-bed in-patient unit at the IWK Health Centre.

CBC News is not naming the mother or son to protect his privacy.

But when he was released last week, his family wasn't informed and there was no one to support or supervise him.

"Last night, he was learning how to shoot a gun at a range in Halifax," the mother said on Monday. "Two nights ago he was at a bar getting drunk, with some sort of smoke — cigarettes, or something else — that was in his hand.

"This is how people get shot in Toronto. This is how heads get lopped off on Greyhound buses. This is how it happens."

Lack of youth in-patient services

The mother says if he was considered an adult, her son would get better mental health services and he'd get them in his own community through in-patient psychiatric health programs offered in Cape Breton.

She accompanied her son when he was first admitted to the IWK, and was relieved because it meant he'd get access to services that aren't available to youths in Cape Breton.

He was told to eat nutritious meals and get plenty of sleep, and was prescribed medication that requires patients to drink plenty of water, she said.

Her son has been sent back twice since then, and she hasn't gone with him.

Consent to share information

She now finds it difficult to get information about her son's care and whereabouts.

As an 18-year-old, he has been able to refuse consent for the mental health facility to share his care plans with his parents.

The last two times he was sent to Halifax, her son was released with no support or caregivers in place, she said.

Dr. Scott Theriault is the clinical director of mental health for the central zone of the Nova Scotia Health Authority. (CBC)

The most recent incident occurred last week. She said her son was apprehended on Tuesday by the police under the Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment Act, and was expected to arrive in Halifax early Wednesday morning.

"I have called nine times since then, and none of those times will they tell me anything about my son — his health, his safety, his treatment plan, his discharge plan, or whether or not he was ever there," she said.

She only knows he was in the Garron Centre as late as Friday morning, because he occasionally responded to calls or text messages.

Social media posts

After that, she found social media posts he'd left online over the weekend, including a photo of him with his arms outstretched holding a handgun at a firing range.

"He's released into the street as an 18-year-old who's ill, who has been assessed as very ill from his home psychiatrist, and he has no parent or family member at the door to help him get home," she said. "And he has no way to figure out how to do so, so he's not home yet and we don't know where he is.

"He doesn't know from moment to moment what he's doing and he doesn't know where he's going to go," she said. "He doesn't even know how he's going to find a bus station, and he doesn't know whether or not he wants to stay there or move to Calgary or come to Sydney.

That has the mother extremely worried for her the safety of her son and the public.

Her son appears to be continuing his manic behaviour, if his online posts are any indication, she said.

"He's not sleeping. He's not on medication, and he's got a gun in his hand. So, somebody can say I'm exaggerating, they can go ahead.

"I told them in July, it seems to me the only way that I will get any attention is if my son is psychotic again."

Family support vs. privacy

The Nova Scotia Health Authority website says families are considered "essential partners" in child and adolescent mental health treatment, and the IWK website says families are central because they are often the primary caregivers after a child or adolescent is discharged from the mental health unit.

"It is completely false," she said. "The IWK will not even acknowledge that a patient is there if that ill teenager decides ... that they don't want their families as part of that plan.

"What kind of a system allows that happen? It makes no sense."

Dr. Scott Theriault, clinical director of mental health for the central zone, said medical staff are trained to assess patients, but also have to follow privacy laws.

"Once you've decided that the person is capable of making those decisions, even if they make a decision that might not be in their best interests, such as to not involve their family members, then they have the right to do that," he said.

The mother said her son turns 19 next spring, but she doesn't think he should have to wait to access adult services in Cape Breton.

"My son is 18 and a half. What I want is for him to go right into the adult system, because right now, he's bound to go back and forth, like a tennis ball, to the Garron Centre.

"Even though they say they're going to send you home with a good, sound discharge plan, that is non-existent."

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Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 37 years. He has spent the last 19 covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at