Why this 18-year-old demands better mental health care for “the lost year”
Lola Trembath says she will never forget the first time she entered the Adult Psychiatry Unit at the Dr Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton.
It was last March, just eight days after his 18th birthday. She was scared and alone, desperately seeking help after serious thoughts of harming herself.
“It was a shock because there are people there who are almost 80 years old, and I was 18,” Trembath said.
However, she knew about these unhealthy thoughts and knew that she needed hospital care.
For four years, Trembath struggled with mental health issues. A suicide attempt left her on life support for seven days when she was 16, and she was hospitalized 13 times.
She had been through it all, at least she believed, until she encountered what she saw as the harsh environment of 2 Southeast, at the Chalmers.
“[There were] a few times when there were other patients that i understand weren’t all okay, but some were verbally abusive with me so it wasn’t helpful, ”said Trembath.
“I find that the environment plays a big role in making things worse and not necessarily in making them better.”
Trembath said she did not feel safe or supported in the unit. She said she often had to share a bedroom and was uncomfortable with the showers being in unlocked rooms which she described as being mostly out of sight of the nurses station.
She recounted an incident which she found particularly frightening, when a woman entered her room and refused to come out.
Trembath’s parents want the provincial government to change the pediatric age range to include 18-year-olds – a concept supported by the New Brunswick Children and Young Assistants limit for the advocate.
“I understand there has to be an age when things have to go off and on, but 18, especially when you’re dealing with mental illness, I don’t think that’s fair,” said his mother, Natalie Way.
Way calls it “the lost year”.
“It’s her brain that’s sick, and I don’t think it’s an adequate age for her to be able to and have to make decisions on her own and stand up for herself.”
During Trembath’s previous admissions to the pediatric unit, his psychiatrist, psychologist and parents were able to visit him and provide him with comprehensive care. Her parents say that doesn’t happen on the adult floor, where she’s been admitted three times this year, most recently last week.
The situation is made worse by the fact that Trembath was unable to have visitors due to COVID restrictions.
Even when the hospital authorized what Horizon Health Network calls Designated Support Persons or DSPs, Lola became ineligible as a patient at the age of 18. Pediatric patients are included in the specified group of patients eligible for PSD, but adult psychiatric patients are not.
Trembath’s father, Jason George, believes health officials should exercise discretion when it comes to young people and the vulnerable.
“In these extraordinary times, they should know from our history and the record that we would be supportive for her,” said George.
In a statement, Horizon Health said its Designated Support Person program is intended to provide eligible patients with an active partner in care.
“Limiting foot traffic in our hospitals is essential to protect our most vulnerable patients, as well as our doctors and staff, from the risks of COVID-19,” spokesman Kris McDavid said in a statement.
CBC News requested further comment from Horizon Health, as well as the Department of Health, and did not receive a response.
Christian Whalen, the deputy advocate for children and youth, strongly agrees that young people should not be cut off from necessary services before they are ready.
“I wonder why this transition happens at 18? And not at 19, for example? In New Brunswick, 19 is the age of majority, ”said Whalen.
He sympathized with Trembath’s situation and said he had heard from many families with similar concerns over the years.
“At 18, she should still be able to benefit from some of the specialized services available to children and youth,” Whalen said.
“And whatever a particular mental health problem is, maybe we need some flexibility, so that we can avoid these really difficult transitions for young people in times of crisis, and that we can have a suitable system and flexible that meets them where they are and what they need. “
He said some European countries are dedicating facilities to care for 15-25 year olds struggling with mental health issues, as this is the key age group, when the brain is still developing.
“If we can develop suitable and dedicated services for this age group, then we can give them the best care,” said Whalen. “Then we’re going to equip them, you know, with a path to recovery and help them manage their disease.”
Lexi Daken’s Legacy
In September, Whalen’s office released a report and a series of recommendations to the province, following a thorough examination of the high-profile death of Lexi Daken. The 16-year-old took her own life after months of seeking help and trying to access services in Fredericton.
The Daken family took Lexi’s story public to bring about changes in the mental health system. Chris Daken, Lexi’s father, said some parents have since contacted him to let him know that improvements have been made thanks to Lexi’s legacy.
But he hears just as many families who feel discouraged.
“Some things are probably still the same which is not good,” Daken said. “But you know, we always have to hope that, you know, things will get better.”
He said a mother of a 16-year-old girl contacted him recently to describe what started as a pleasant experience in the emergency department and deteriorated into a bureaucratic mess. He said the teenager’s referral was sent to the wrong place.
“That’s basically what happened to Lexi, and she had to go through many channels to get her daughter into mental health care,” Daken said.
According to Whalen, complaints about access to hospital care and the quality of health care regularly make up around 15 to 20 percent of cases for the Child and Youth Advocate. He said complaints have increased during the pandemic, particularly since the review was announced last spring.
Lola Trembath feels personally connected to Lexi Daken because they have faced similar experiences.
“She feels like the lucky one, while Lexi wasn’t,” said George.
“I just think it was a call to action that got a lot of talk, and there haven’t been any boots on the pitch or substantial changes that we’ve seen so far. I mean, we are still fighting the system even in a crisis that we are now in. We are still fighting the system to get the support we feel is necessary, despite everything Lexi and her family have been through.
Whalen said the office of the Child and Youth Advocate was in the phase of following up on the recommendations.
“We don’t want to just publish this report and, you know, say good luck to the Department of Health. We’re going to follow up and monitor what’s been done,” Whalen said.
If you need help:
CHIMO Hotline: 1-800-667-5005 / http://www.chimohelpline.ca
Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868
Canadian Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566.