Long way to go to aid mentally ill

TheStar.com – Canada – Long way to go to aid mentally ill
July 17, 2009.   Jim Coyle

Twenty minutes isn’t much. Time for a coffee break maybe. Or, as an Ontario Legislature committee learned on its recent travels, time enough to hear the story of a family.

It was a mid-week morning in the conference room of a Kingston hotel. The select committee on mental health and addictions was taking submissions. Paul and Denise Finn were next up.

Paul said good morning. He and his wife have six children, he said. Their 23-year-old son, Luke, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2005.

“You’ll have to forgive me,” he said. “I’m not nervous about being here. I’m nervous about what I’m talking about.”

By the time Luke was 8, they knew he had learning disabilities, he said. And the runaround began.

A family doctor referred them to a child development centre. They filled out the paperwork. Then they were told Luke wasn’t eligible unless he had behavioural problems. They went to the school board. They were told there was a waiting list of years for the support Luke needed.

When he was in Grade 4, they sought help privately. Tests were done. A learning plan was put in place. “We started to see some progress for him.”

But by age 11, in Grade 5, they saw the first signs of depression. “He told us when he was 12 he was tired of being different and he wanted to kill himself.”

Luke changed schools. He received some special ed. He improved a bit. Until he hit high school.

A doctor referred them to a psychologist. They couldn’t continue because of the costs. At 15, he was admitted to the adolescent psychiatric unit of a local hospital. But “his time in there was horrible.”

There was more testing. Experts usually discovered what the family already knew. “He’s profoundly learning disabled.”

Luke began telling doctors he was hearing voices and seeing things. He was taken into an outpatient program, seen sporadically at first, then twice a month, then every week. He made some slow headway. “Some of the slowness was happening because it came to light that Luke had been medicating himself with marijuana.”

The week he turned 18, the Finns were told he could no longer be seen by the adolescent psychiatrist. It took six months to get him a new specialist. After three visits, they were told Luke was beyond her realm of expertise.

They were referred back to the hospital. Once in a program there, he was diagnosed and finally began getting the treatment he needed.

“It has not been easy and Luke still struggles daily. There has been a real drain on our family … I’d like to tell you that his story is unique, but I can’t.”

For years, the family was frustrated trying to find someone to see them, “frustrated with the time frame we got for the initial appointment, frustrated with the time between appointments, and frustrated with the lack of resources available.”

Through all that, they had to work each day, care for their other children, “and try to act like everything is okay.”

Their daughter, their youngest child, would call them at work each day to say Luke was safe, that he “hasn’t killed himself.

“I think, really, for us it has always just been a lack of resources,” Mrs. Finn said.

It would appear there’s a long way to go in Ontario before, as the health minister’s discussion paper on reforming mental health and addiction service put it this week, “Every Door is the Right Door.”

It turns out you can say rather a lot in 20 minutes.

 

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