'We've known what needs to be done, for decades': Mental health advocates demand new system in wake of teen's death
FREDERICTON -- Advocates, lawyers and those who work with youth say an overhaul of the youth mental health system is what's needed in the wake of Lexi Daken's death.
Daken died by suicide on Feb. 24, less than a week after waiting for over eight hours in the emergency room at the Everett Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton.
She went to see a psychiatrist, but her family says she was made to feel like a burden, and never saw one.
The tragedy has sparked outrage in New Brunswick and across the country.
"We've known what needs to be done, for decades. And we haven't done it," John Sharpe said in an interview with CTV Atlantic.
The executive director of Partners for Youth, based in Fredericton, has worked with youth, including youth-at-risk, for almost 30 years.
He says there have been many reports and reviews, which all paint pictures of a system that's "overwhelmed, understaffed and inadequate for the care of youth."
"We don't want to rebuild the system. We want a new system … we want a transformed system. What that means is we have youth, family and community at the centre," Sharpe said.
He highlighted a report from 2009 by Justice Michael McKee, which identified dozens of goals aimed to transform the current system.
"We heard from the parent whose 23-year-old son committed suicide at the same time his name was placed at the bottom of a waiting list," the report reads.
Sharpe says youth have expressed the need for easier access to therapy and counselling, more guidance counsellors, and peer-guided programs in their communities.
"Over a decade ago, we all embarked on a process to encourage kids to talk … to seek support, to encourage their friends to get support and help," he said. "And yet, at the end of the day, when they do what we've asked them to do, that support doesn't exist."
The province's Liberal opposition are calling on the Blaine Higgs government to include "significant investments" in the upcoming budget, scheduled to be tabled on March 16.
Two Fredericton-area lawyers say lack of timely access to mental health services is a violation under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"People have a right to access healthcare in a way that doesn't put their lives and their personal security in jeopardy," said UNB law professor Kerri Froc. "The government is looking at this as a political and policy matter and that's fine, but they really have to be in tune to the fact that there's Charter implications."
Lawyer Jody Carr has researched and written about the issue of mental healthcare access, and says it can take up to two years to see a psychiatrist or psychologist in N.B.
"We collectively are failing," Carr said. "I think this is an opportunity that we work together to say we can do better, and we must do better. Not only morally, but also legally."
Carr says there are also flaws in the province's justice system and how it treats those with a mental illness.
Sharpe says Daken did everything right.
"A young person reached out for help. They asked for help, they waited for eight hours for help and help never came," Sharpe said. "And if that doesn't jar us to our core as a province to take a step back and look at what we've done in the last ten years to address youth mental health care and services in our province, I don't know what will."
A spokesperson for Horizon Health Network said they will be "declining further comment."