Mom of teen who took his own life leads Regina rally for better mental health services

Two months ago, Indian Head teenager Kye Ball took his own life after a battle with mental illness.

'I don't want any other family to feel the way we feel,' says Wanda Ball

Children at a rally for better youth mental health supports hold signs depicting Saskatchewan teenager Kye Ball, who took his own life at age 16 in March. (Kirk Fraser/CBC News)

Two months ago, Indian Head, Sask., teenager Kye Ball took his own life after a battle with mental illness.

On Friday his mom, Wanda Ball, led a rally at the legislature to make sure the government knows what happened to her son.

She said the health care system let him down.

"I know this is not going to bring Kye back but I don't want any other family to feel the way we feel, and I know Kye felt so let down and his life did matter," said Ball.

"I want to make sure the government knows that and they need to invest money. These kids are our future and it's happening far too often in this province."

Teen turned away from hospital, says mom

Ball said her son was a fun-loving teenager who enjoyed hunting, fishing and ice-skating.

The parents of Ryan Schlechter hold his picture. Ryan committed suicide last June. (Kirk Fraser/CBC News )

At the age of 13, he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

In the years that followed, she said she tried desperately to seek help for her son.

"We were turned away countless times, even when he was brought up by ambulance [to the hospital]," said Ball.

"And he was sent home to us and we had to take on that worry and concern, like, are we or his sisters going to find him. It's a scary thing," she said.

The march started at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and ended at the legislature.

Ball was joined at the rally by other parents of young people who killed themselves and people who have dealt with their own mental illness.

Some of the rally participants shared stories of losing loved ones, including their children, or of struggling to get help. 

Todd Guggenmos says Kye Ball's story of struggling to get help before he took his own life was eerily similar to that of his own son, Lane. (Adam Hunter/CBC News)

'Eerily similar' stories

Todd Guggenmos' son Lane killed himself in November 2015. Guggenmos was compelled to join the rally after reading Kye Ball's story.

"It's eerily similar. Lack of support. He was sent home when he was suicidal. So we wanted to be here for their family and to do this in memory of Lane," said Guggenmos.

"He was spiralling down and we could see the writing on the wall but really the support wasn't there. We'd taken Lane to the hospital several times because he was having suicidal ideation and he was sent home before things were OK with him."

Both Guggenmos and Ball want to see the government invest more money in mental health to ensure there are beds for people in crisis.

"I put Lane's picture on my sign and said, 'These are our kids, they are not statistics.' They are not a case, they are not a file," said Guggenmos. 

"They are people who are loved and missed and should have had the care they needed and they are gone."

'It's troubling:' Health minister

At a news conference in Saskatoon Friday afternoon, Health Minister Jim Reiter said he would not "sugar coat" the situation, adding that the province is aware that more needs to be done.

Health Minister Jim Reiter told reporters at a news conference in Saskatoon he believes the province could be doing more for mental health care in Saskatchewan. (Albert Couillard/CBC News)
Speaking specifically to situations where people like Kye Ball were turned away from health services, he said the province would use extra funding from the federal government to make improvements in a range of areas. 

"Officials tell me that in the most extreme cases people get immediate help but you know what, you hear those anecdotal stories and it's troubling," said Reiter. 

"We're going to use all the extra resources from the federal government moving forward. We think we've made significant improvements but we think we could do a lot more."

Reiter said targeted funding for mental health was one of the biggest reasons the government had signed onto the federal health accord.

Federal funding for improvements

Under the deal, Saskatchewan will receive $158.5 million for mental-health services over the next 10 years. 

Reiter said the provincial government has increased the number of psychiatrists in Saskatchewan.

He added that the government has taken notice of the calls for change at Friday's rally and he would be willing to meet with advocates.

The minister, who was in Saskatoon on Friday, said he would need to meet with one of his staff members who attended the rally before deciding any further action to take.

"The problem is, and I recognize that, people want improvements quickly in all areas of health care and we're going to do it as quickly as we can," he said.

Dave Nelson from the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association says access to some services may be about to get worse. (CBC)

'There is no money going into the system'

But Dave Nelson, from the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said the amount of money the government is putting into mental health does not reflect the additional funding expected from the federal health accord. 

"There is no money going into the system," said Nelson.

"As a matter of fact, access is about to get a bit worse because they're actually taking money away from the front-line services.

"They're reducing the community-based organizations that people typically can go to first to get help before they have to go to more expensive services."

The provincial government is asking health regions to cut their $15.7 million spending on community-based organizations by 10 per cent overall, a reduction of about $1.5 million.

How to seek help

During the news conference on Friday, the health minister said people who are struggling to get help now should contact their doctor or the health ministry.

The province said people seeking immediate support and someone to speak to should contact Healthline 811, which it said is staffed with mental health supports 24/7. Young people seeking help can also call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. 

For individuals seeking non-urgent or scheduled services beyond what is available at a physician's office, the province recommended calling the local regional health authority or Mental Health and Addictions Services.

With files from CBC Radio's Afternoon Edition and CBC's Adam Hunter