White Coat, Black Art

'They never should have let him go'

Bonnie Bricker's son, Reid had serious mental-health problems. When he became an adult, she was often left out of the loop when it came to his care. She's now working to change the system to help others in distress – and their loved ones.
Bonnie Bricker and her son Reid.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, please go to your nearest emergency room or call 911.  Click here for a list of provincial crisis lines.

In every parent's life, there's a moment when children become old enough to manage their own affairs - for better or worse.  But it's different for parents like Bonnie Bricker.  Her late son Reid had serious mental health problems.

In 2015, 33-year-old Reid was brought to a Winnipeg ER after attempting suicide. It was his third visit in 10 days to an emergency department.  It would turn out to be his last.   
Reid Bricker

Reid was discharged from hospital and committed suicide shortly afterwards. 

Speaking to Dr. Brian Goldman, Bonnie questions why her son, whom police had said was suicidal, had been released. "Could you not just look at him as though this might be your son, your husband, your father, your loved one or your best friend and say 'oh my god how would I want this person to be treated at this moment?' I sure as hell wouldn't want them wandering the streets... What the heck were they thinking?"

Bonnie also questions why she was shut out of her adult son's circle of care because of privacy considerations. "I definitely think they should have contacted me. They didn't have to tell me anything about what was going on. They didn't need to breach his privacy in any way shape or form. But they should have asked me for information. They should have given me that last chance. And they didn't.

They denied me as a parent. Shame on them.- Bonnie Bricker
Dr. David Goldbloom, a Senior Medical Advisor at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto says the system needs to find ways to include parents in the care of their adult children.  "I think psychiatry has done a disservice over the years to families and friends of patients. We have unnecessarly hidden behind a cloak of confidentiality."
Dr David Goldbloom says parents should often be part of the treatment of their adult children. (University of Toronto)

Goldbloom describes how he convinces adult patients to connect with family members about their care.  "I do it by saying to patients, 'I need the input of your family. They've known you for 30 or 40 years. I've known you for an hour and a half.' Not that I divulge everything, but (family members) often act as a distant early warning system."

Two years after her son's death, Bonnie Bricker is now Director of the Family Navigation Program & Services at the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, an organization that helps families in distress.

She is also part of a task force looking at improvements to mental health services.  She's been instrumental in developing new rules for ERs that discharge mental health patients. The protocol which was signed and passed by the province in April, calls for better treatment of the symptoms of emotional distress, more thorough follow-up, and a new onus to contact the family if the patient consents.  

She'd like to see separate ERs for mental health patients and she wants hospitals to hire more peer support workers -- current and former mental health patients, who see the system from the patient's point of view.

In July, a 49-year-old Winnipeg man named Terrance Van Dyke ended his life hours after being discharged by Health Sciences Centre following a suicide attempt.  Bonnie says that peer support might have made the difference.

"Can you imagine talking to someone who understands the darkness that you feel? The noise in your brain? How you see life? They get that. They been there. And they know how to get on that journey to recovery."

      1 of 0