APTN National News
A 16-year-old Indigenous youth who committed suicide in a forest was failed by British Columbia’s mental health services, says a new report by the province’s children and youth representative.
The boy, who was identified as “Chester” in the report to protect the privacy of his family and community, exhibited signs of serious mental health issues before his 2013 death but received little in any help from the organizations created to provide the help he needed, said the report.
The report titled, A Tragedy in Waiting, said little has improved with the province’s mental health services since the tragedy which the report said was the result of non-existent proper assessments for the boy.
The report said miscommunication and lack of follow-up created the perception treatment through Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health Services would be hampered by extremely long wait lists along with a false sense that the youth was already receiving enough support.
“One might think that when faced with a tragedy such as a teenager taking his own life, providing treatment for mental illnesses for Aboriginal children and youth would become a top priority for government, but that has not happened,” said Children and Youth Representative Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, in a statement. “In May 2013, we lost a bright and creative young man who should still be here. Three years later, wait lists for services in this youth’s area—close to an urban centre—are still on-average 270 days, or nearly nine months. This is nothing short of cruel.”
The report said that the Aboriginal agency in the youth’s area was operating below an acceptable standard and was not being properly supported by the Minister of Children and Family Development.
The report said the agency couldn’t help the youth adequately because it was more concerned with organizing its records for a ministry audit and quality review.
“This DAA had been struggling for years with little aid from the ministry, which is required by law to support it,” said Turpel-Lafond. “Actions taken by MCFD did not adequately address the lack of capacity in the DAA until well after Chester’s death and it remains unclear whether these issues have been resolved in a sustainable manner.”
The report called on the government to increase resources to reduce the wait list for Aboriginal children and youth mental health services.
It also called for the creation of a “proactive lead agency” in conjunction with Ottawa and First Nations to deliver Aboriginal and youth mental health services.
“There has been much talk about reconciliation and placing children at the centre, but so little has been done to make improvements that it is impossible to say the system has progressed at all since Chester died,” said Turpel-Lafond. “Children are waiting and waiting and waiting. Even now, some children in Chester’s region are waiting as long as 12 months for services in a major urban area. This is essentially a denial of service. Quite simply, we must do better.”