I have known Skye for 3 years. She was one of the first street-engaged youth I met while doing outreach. I remember our first meeting fondly: I was still new, and somewhat terrified, and she reached out and was incredibly welcoming and kind to me.
But when Skye came into my office on Friday, she was not the same kind and gentle youth who I had come to know. She was having persistent and overwhelming thoughts of hurting herself and others. The thoughts she was having were scary and disturbing and she was worried she would act on them. We talked about the different resources she could go to, but within moments, I could tell it was too late to make an appointment with a counselor.
Skye was having a mental health crisis and she needed immediate help.
She agreed to go to the Civic Hospital emergency room but she was reluctant to go alone. She did not think the doctors would take her seriously, as they have refused to help her in the past. I agreed to go with her for support.
I was hopeful when we were directed right away to the psychiatry department. The psychiatrist introduced himself and asked to interview Skye alone. I told her I would be just down the hall if she needed me.
Within 2 minutes, I could hear Skye screaming. I ran towards the interview room and saw her violently banging the furniture and walls. She was screaming because the psychiatrist had told her he was calling the police due to the violent thoughts she was having. Skye, like most street-engaged youth, is terrified of the police. She was screaming and punching herself in the face. I calmed her down, reminding her she had not broken the law so she would not be arrested. She calmed down and we waited for the police.
The police arrived, and did a brief assessment of her mental state. Skye told them about her violent and suicidal thoughts. The police then spoke privately with the psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist came back to us, and explained that he believed the best course of action would be for Skye to do an outpatient program at the Royal Ottawa Hospital: First, a program to deal with her addiction, and then a program to deal with her mental health issues. The programs sounded helpful, but Skye expressed that she could not wait until Monday for the program to start. She needed help right away.
“What if I kill someone tomorrow?” she asked the psychiatrist.
“Well, that might happen.” replied the psychiatrist.
I was absolutely shocked by his response.
“You are responsible for your actions and you need to take responsibility for them” he continued.
“That’s why I’m here, I need help! Why won’t you help me?” Skye yelled. At this point, Skye was furious and left the hospital to go cool down in the parking lot.
I then spoke with the psychiatrist. I explained that I believed the programs he recommended would be helpful for Skye, but that she needed more immediate help. The doctor proceeded to list off his several years of experience and education, and assured me this was the best course of action. I stressed that Skye was still expressing that she was going to hurt herself or someone else, and how could he not admit her for that?
He told me that if she hurts someone, that would be a police matter.
I argued with the doctor until I realized that he was not going to change his mind. Although I’m sure the doctor believed he was helping Skye, how could he let her leave after admitting that she was at risk of hurting herself and others?
When I got to Skye who was in the parking lot, she was still upset. She was pleading for the police to help her, even going so far as to ask them if she stabbed herself, would they help her then? The stunned police officers had no response.
I assured her that together, she and I would create a plan for the weekend in order to keep her safe until she could enroll in the Royal Ottawa program on Monday.
Before leaving, the police said “If you are in trouble tonight, if there is an emergency, call us.”
This is an emergency, I thought.
So we left the hospital, with Skye still feeling unsafe in her own body.
I left thinking: Would this have happened if Skye was not an addict? Would they have taken her seriously if she was not street-engaged? Would they have treated her differently if she didn’t have piercings and tattoos?
I have always believed that if a youth is having a mental health crisis and nothing is working, the hospital is there to take care of the youth and to ensure their safety. This belief has been completely shattered. Instead, it seems that we have a system that is more interested in intervening once damage has been done or a crime has been committed, rather than listening to the pleas of a young woman, desperate for help.