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Seeing Firsthand How Canada's Mental Health System Is Failing Those Who Need It

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

When we talk about mental illness, we encourage people to get help. When someone’s suicidal, we encourage them to go to an emergency room or call a crisis line. This is good, and it can help a lot of people.

But what we need to talk about it is how this doesn’t always work. Not because of the person needing help, but because of the mental health system. The mental health system in Canada is broken and failing far too many people.

I’ve experienced this firsthand. The first time I was admitted to the hospital after a suicide attempt, I was 14 years old. I had already been struggling with self-harm and depression for years, yet my struggles were brushed off because of my age, as if it was just a “phase.” At this point, I was also struggling with an undiagnosed eating disorder. I tried to open up to the nurse doing my assessment for the admission about it, and all I got was “well you can’t do that here.” There were a couple more hospitalizations after the first one, and then they finally took me seriously. Then there were a couple more, and they didn’t know what to do with me. In the emergency room, the psychiatrists would avoid seeing me as long as they could. There was one time where it had been over a day in the emergency room without seeing anyone or being told what was happening, and my mother actually had to demand to talk to the head psychiatrist to get someone to come see me. After a few admissions, borderline personality disorder traits had been added to my list of diagnoses, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that contributed to this happening.

Eventually my undiagnosed eating disorder became diagnosed. So now I was bouncing between the general mental health program and the eating disorder program. But the eating disorder program was so much worse. I immediately got diagnosed with an eating disorder that made no sense for the sole reason I wasn’t underweight by BMI standards. I started treatment soon after my assessment with the eating disorder clinic and spent around four months in the program. I got judgmental comments from nurses, was punished for using behaviors and eventually got kicked out of the program for being suicidal. There was also one inpatient admission meant to medically stabilize me, but I got kicked out yet again – because I would only drink half of my cup of water.

I’m 20 years old now and have experienced the adult system, and it’s so much worse. At this point, I have friends who have died because of it. I’ve been sent home from the emergency room countless times, despite being nowhere near safe. I believe a big part of this is having a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. No public outpatient program will take me because my problems are too complex. Because of that, I have to pay hundreds of dollars a week for therapy and group treatment.

The worst part is I’m not alone in this experience. I’ve been with a friend in that emergency room and watched her get discharged after they did not a single thing for her. I’ve been worried for my friends lives as they wait months and months for treatment they could die without. I’ve then watched them get kicked out of the program for using the behaviors they’re there to learn how to stop. I’ve had another friend who’s been kicked out of program after program for no valid reason at all and then is left to pick up the pieces on her own. This past August a friend I was in eating treatment with passed away. She was denied treatment for her eating disorder over and over because she was expected to gain some weight before going to inpatient treatment. She was struggling so much, and this led to her suicide. Just a couple of weeks before, someone from the same treatment program also died by suicide. A couple of months before, another friend from treatment passed away from her eating disorder because she couldn’t get treatment.

I could go on and on about this, about the stories I’ve heard from other people, about my own stories. The reality is because of how broken the mental health system is, people are left trying to deal with their struggles on their own. They’re being denied help they need. People are dying. And something needs to change.

Getty image by zest_marina

Originally published: October 14, 2019
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