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Comment: Children’s mental-health care in need of overhaul

My daughter, Hayden Blair, is forever 16. She took her life Dec. 19, 2010, while in the care of the Vancouver Island Health Authority at Ledger House at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health.

My daughter, Hayden Blair, is forever 16. She took her life Dec. 19, 2010, while in the care of the Vancouver Island Health Authority at Ledger House at the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health.

Hayden suffered from severe anxiety and depression. The stigma, the disgrace and shame she felt of how others viewed her heightened her anxiety. The pain it took to stay outweighed the pain it took to leave.

Hayden’s life can’t be for nothing. There are things to be learned from her death. I want to normalize an invisible illness and erase the stigma surrounding it.

The first time Hayden reached out was Oct. 5 — and 75 days later she was dead. In those 75 days, Hayden was seen by 15 different health professionals, each one wanting to know her story, her fears. This was exhausting and humiliating. It was like she was caught in a whirlpool and we, her parents, were pushed to the sidelines, feeling helpless and not knowing what our role was.

We were more fortunate than most in that the coroner held an inquest to learn from Hayden’s death. The jury made 23 recommendations. It was a painful process, but we knew that it could help others in the future.

It seems a crime that for all the effort, resources and heartbreak, we have seen only a few of the recommendations implemented. Hayden was let down in life — I don’t want her death to be in vain.

The relationship between parents, their child and the health-care system usually begins at birth. There is a feeling of comfort as you watch the staff confidently ply their craft. There is a certain order to things, even when things don’t go perfectly, because there is always a plan.

Then, down the road, your child might visit the hospital again — broken bones, stitches needed and other illnesses. Once again, you get to watch the nurses and doctors competently, confidently care for your child. Once again, there is a plan of action they can take.

Now take that same child to the same facility with a mental crisis — everything seems different. The same caring staff is in attendance, but something is missing. The air of confidence is gone; there is no plan they can execute. Yes, they can calm the child with Ativan. Yes, they can talk to the child. Crisis nurses are called upon, but they can do little more than advise and direct you to the myriad of services in the community.

So begins the journey of trying to navigate the confusing and convoluted trail that is supposed to help your child. Children in crisis do not have the capability of exercising patience and understanding that these things take time. They need help now.

From a North Island perspective, seeing how things are changing for the better in the capital region is encouraging, but it must be remembered that VIHA stands for Vancouver Island Health Authority, not Victoria Island Health Authority. With the building of the two new hospitals in Comox and Campbell River, it would be prudent to include youth and mental-health services.

Most certainly, it would be mind-blowing if VIHA honoured the recommendations that came from the coroner’s inquest into Hayden’s death, primarily the two youth mental-health beds for the North Island. Sadly, these beds would most likely be full at all times.

On Feb. 17, another 16-year-old girl chose the same path as Hayden. They had been patients together at Ledger. There are no words to describe the heartbreak we feel that another family with access to all the available resources has suffered the same outcome. This can only suggest that the current system is still failing our children.

I support the efforts of Kelly and Owen Bradley, who have launched a campaign calling for a specialized hospital unit to treat children experiencing a mental-health crisis.

Change is not an option — change is a necessity.


Barbara Kozeletski is a Campbell River resident.