Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fixing British Columbia's Mental Health Care Crisis: An Interview with Kelly Bradley

Kelly Bradley, right, stands next to her
husband, Owen Bradley, left. (Photo
reused with permission from Kelly
*Name has been changed to protect identity.

Wait lists. Being told her adopted daughter was "physically OK" even though she was experiencing an obvious mental health crisis. These were the things that Kelly Bradley had to deal with while trying to get help for her 11-year-old adopted daughter, *Jeannette. Now, Kelly Bradley is advocating for changes to British Columbia's (B.C.'s) mental health care system. (British Columbia is a province in Canada.) 

Describe Jeannette's condition. What does she experience that makes her need intensive mental health care?

Kelly: Jeannette is living with Adolescent Bipolar disorder. She was having rapid cycling episodes, which in her case and many children with Bipolar, results in very violent behaviour that can last several hours. Moreover, she was self-harming by hitting her head (hard) into walls, windows, her hands, or with her hard toys. She wanted the "angry feelings to stop." We were seriously concerned she would fatally harm herself or seriously injure one of us (her parents).

Describe your experiences at the hospital when Jeannette was having a mental health crisis.

Kelly: The first time we sought emergency help in January, Jeannette was admitted so the hospital could rule out any "physical reasoning" for her rapid cycling. When the testing came back, it showed that her medication needed an overhaul, and that would need to be done at Ledger House, Victoria's only psychiatric assessment hospital that has 13 beds and, at the time, had a 3-4 week waiting list. We were told that the hospital was not set up for what Jeannette needed, and we would have to take her home to wait. They also said if she had another violent episode and we were concerned for her safety, that we could bring her back to the hospital. The hospital gave us a card with the crisis line, a prescription of Ativan, and a waiting list. 

20 hours after Jeannette's first discharge, we had to call 911 to get the police to help us take her back to the hospital, because she was too violent for us to safely take her. The police took Jeannette under the Mental Health Act and had to stay with her until she was seen by an ER doctor. They wouldn't allow me into the waiting area because she was too violent. I had to leave the hospital briefly to get my son from preschool, and received a phone call from the hospital social worker saying that Jeannette will be discharged because she was "physically OK." Both myself and Jeannette begged them to admit her because we were worried she would fatally harm herself, but again they said the hospital wasn't set up for kids like her. Again, they gave us a business card for the crisis line and told us to bring her back if she has another episode. 

Two days later, Jeannette had another very violent episode and again we called 911 to help us get her to the hospital. The police came and once again took her under the Mental Health Act and brought her to the hospital. I had to find a babysitter for my other kids, so I followed shortly after. By the time we reached the hospital, she was already discharged and waiting in the "safe room" for us to take her home. It should be noted that each time we took Jeannette to the hospital, we first called the crisis line and they themselves told us to take her after hearing her in the background.

You have been petitioning B.C.'s Minister of Health, Margaret MacDiarmid, to make changes to B.C.'s mental health care system. What changes would you like to see?

Kelly: I don't want any family to be abandoned like we were when Jeannette was in a crisis. When a child comes to the ER of any hospital with a mental health emergency, there needs to be appropriate, inpatient, emergency care and stabilization for kids in crisis. There needs to be access for the child and family to be assessed by a psychiatrist, not an ER doctor, and a plan that doesn't take weeks to implement. No child or youth in crisis should be told to wait. You wouldn't ask a child with a broken arm to wait weeks to have treatment, but why is it OK for a kid fighting to stay alive to wait?

You have posted a petition on asking for changes to B.C.'s mental health care system. How do you feel about the response you have been receiving?

Kelly: We are overwhelmed by the amount of support we have received from supporters on It's also very hard for us to read all of the heartbreaking and similar stories other families have faced trying to access emergency help for their children across B.C.

What is your response to people who believe that mental health care is not an issue?

Kelly: Mental health affects everyone either directly or indirectly. People with mental health issues face stigma every day. Just because you can't physically see the pain and suffering, doesn't mean it's not as serious. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in children and youth. I do not want my child to be another tragedy and statistic.

I would like to thank Kelly Bradley for sharing her story, and for advocating for changes to B.C.'s mental health care system.

To sign Kelly Bradley's petition, please visit: 

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