The word “no” can send 14-year-old Kate Harvey from Kerrobert, Sask. into a fit of rage.
Last week, Kate’s mother, Cathy, described on Facebook how her daughter suffers from a series of mental illnesses and is falling through the cracks in the province’s health and social services systems. Nearly 2,000 people have shared the post.
“I love my daughter with all my heart and no one is helping her,” Harvey, principal at the Kerrobert Composite School, told Metro.
“She is so out of control that she will do anything.”
A series of issues that includes Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, anxiety and depression renders the teenager incapable of comprehending authority and consequences.
Kate attacks those who care about her most and fakes suicide attempts. She has had her stomach pumped twice with no toxins in her system. She has thrown knives. She hits people. She lies and steals.
“We want her to be with her family and enjoying things that normal 14-year-olds enjoy,” said Cathy. “But is she medicated properly? Is she counselled properly?”
During Kate’s episodes, Cathy said her daughter is either transported to hospital in Saskatoon or taken into police custody. Neither option suffices as Kate has been sent away from emergency rooms without seeing a psychiatrist and fights with other kids as well as officers in juvenile detention.
“To get a diagnosis, Cathy had to seek a court order on an assault charge. Now, health authorities have deemed Kate a danger to her family and she isn’t allowed to return home, instead bouncing between medical facilities and her grandmother’s house.
Danielle Chartier, health critic for the Saskatchewan NDP, says this is not an isolated incident.
“When your only two options are the emergency room or the police, clearly the government is not doing its job,” she says.
Other jurisdictions, said Chartier, have developed solutions. St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto has 24-hour psychiatric emergency services for mental health patients.
In addition, Chartier says it’s necessary to provide increased access to psychiatrists and supported living situations so cases like Kate’s don’t reach the breaking point.
“It’s also very expensive to stay in an acute psychiatric facility.”
According to a March, 2014 report from the Royal University Hospital Foundation in Saskatoon, the Dubé Centre for Mental Health operates at overcapacity with 54 adult beds and 10 youth beds.
The Ministry of Health is consulting with community partners and external departments on an action plan set for release in the fall. Kathy Willerth, director of mental health and addictions, says the document should answer some of these questions.
“We’re very pleased with the large number of respondents,” says Willerth. “We’re all looking forward to seeing those recommendations.”
For now, she said she encourages parents to call their regional health authorities at the first signs of trouble rather than going to the emergency room during crises.
“That’s where we would think is the best starting point. Intake services could do a bit of a triage and could also attempt to match the needs with the services available.”
In the coming year, the goal is to make sure 70 per cent of “people who approach for service are seen within the targets based on the different triage levels.”
Garry Prediger, an acting executive director with the child and family services division for the Ministry of Social Services, says there are a range of resources available for youth with mental disorders such as in-home supports, referral for counselling or foster care.
“Removal of the child from their home is usually the last resort,” he says, adding that while Social Services works closely with the health ministry, there are times when callers are sent from one department to the other.
“It’s important that we communicate directly and closely with families who are dealing with these issues… There is always work that we can do to continuously improve.”
But Cathy remains concerned about what is going to happen to her daughter.
“I am advocating because my child will die if I don’t,” she said.