No compassion or care for the mentally ill at the Ottawa Hospital

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.

hospital hallwayI assured her that she would get some help, and we would not leave until she felt safe.

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.

19 replies
  1. Elizabeth Pickett
    Elizabeth Pickett says:

    Good luck with the Patient Advocacy department. Which has absolutely no power or control. Although I am sure that this experience is more common among street youth, homeless people and addicted people, they are by no means alone. This happened to me. And I am none of those things. They system needs to be adequately funded. And psychiatry itself needs a make-over. As does this completely inhumane and crazy-making culture. I’m sure Patient Advocacy departments do people not much good after this kind of experience and one is vulnerable and ill. Damn it.

  2. Judy Semple
    Judy Semple says:

    Hi Moira,

    This situation is so unacceptable and horrible. I will be praying for Skye, that she gets the right type of help on time. I will also be praying that the system and this doctor change their approach to situations like this.


  3. A.M.R
    A.M.R says:

    Nice try, “The Ottawa Hospital”, This is a systemic problem and no “Patient Advocacy” department can fix it. I’m not surprised at all, after years of living on the street, I had to do things myself if I wanted change. The system only responds after you’ve completely fallen apart, they don’t help hold you up at ALL.

    This is why OIM and the work you guys do is so incredibly vital to the health of all the street-involved young people that come to the art group/drop-in program. They are, in most ways, totally isolated. Having just one safe place, once per week, is amazingly important.

    Thank you guys for all your hard work.

  4. Drew
    Drew says:

    Hi. Nice to find this story. The Ottawa Hospital really is a complete joke. Just recently I went into emergency feeling unsafe and wanting to kill myself. The emergency staff after hours of nonsense conversations with random professionals sent me home with a number to call and a dropin one day psychiatrist resource. It pissed me off. They totally dismissed me. I showed up every day that week asking them to admit me and they wouldn’t. On the 6 night I overdosed on over 100 sleeping pills and slit my wrist twice. The emergency staff treated me like a problem when I arrived. They stitched up my wrist and sent me home right away even as I was feeling groggy. I am a well built black man so you can imagine the treatment I got. Not playing the race card just stating a fact. The system is a joke to me now on top of which I truly believe them to be racist which I never thought before. The whole mental health system needs some serious work. And they finally only admitted me after I went to a shelter cause I didn’t know where else to go to get help. Imagine that. You gotta be homeless and completely broken before they’ll help. What a joke of a system.

  5. admin
    admin says:

    Hi Drew,
    I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I think that you’re right – the mental health system needs some serious work. Hopefully, we will see changes made that make the hospitals a more safe and supportive place for those experiencing mental illness. I’m glad you were finally admitted, and I hope that you are now set up with some good supports so that you don’t have to go through this again. – OIM

  6. Drew
    Drew says:

    Thank you OIM. I’ll just say that the mental health system is a joke. Been in it 20 years now with no quality help. I just started a program last week after waiting 6 months to get into it after I was discharged. Still feeling the same feelings and the new program I don’t foresee helping me. It’s so sad. Mental health caregivers are not that at all. They help only with preconceived biases and information off of files on you. They’re not credible people at all. It’s such a shame.

  7. Guy
    Guy says:

    Something similar to this happened to me but I was eventually admitted. Once there I was traumatised by incompetent and uncaring doctors and staff. The ward is a nightmare and nothing like other hospital services.

  8. Octavian
    Octavian says:

    Having spent alot of time with patiences on the inbound psychiatric ward on the 4th floor at the general hospital. It’s just a place to stay and be safe, but don’t expect any real help beyond a bed, some food, and some meds.

  9. eab
    eab says:

    When it comes to mental health, their is not one pill or one treatment that will work. I have been trying for over 25 years to get good help and I finally did at the Civic.

    At one point you need to put your foot down and demand the help that you need but on the other hand, you have to work hard and take anything and everything in terms of treatment.

    The doctors and pills won’t do much if you, as a person, dont help yourself. You need to work three times harder and prove to the medical establishment that you are ready to try and help yourself because no one will do it for you.

  10. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Well here it is May 2017 and nothing has changed The Ottawa hospital is the worst hospital I have ever stepped foot in .I will be filing a formal complaint

  11. Khgf
    Khgf says:

    What a strange story. They never call police. Police bring ppl in. Very unusual. If she was a danger, they would have tied her to a bed and recorded her outbursts and sent it to the courts to hold her for more than 3 days. If she has frequent visits she still would be held 72 hours every time she would come in until she ends up in an institution. The civic is the most violent and disrespectfull place to go for help. You keep trying therapies until they get a court order for psych surgery. This story isn’t true.

  12. Khgf
    Khgf says:

    I see, they let the patient go to remove their bad reputation. But when the person leaves, they often feel better and the hospital calls police to pick them up. They need to dsm themselves.

  13. Al
    Al says:

    This was not an emergency!!!!! She was articulate and calm with you and had no actual plans of harming herself or others. Get off your religious high horse and look at the facts. Lots of people with addiction issues threaten violence to get a bed for the weekend. If you were that concerned you should have brought her home.
    There are actual sick people who need those beds, not some cranky youth.
    Put your home where your mouth is and don’t bash our system because you didn’t like it. My guess is nothing happened to her and she was just fine.

  14. Juan Carlos Ochoa-Gonzalez
    Juan Carlos Ochoa-Gonzalez says:

    The Ottawa Civic Campus is abusive and manipulative. They only care about their reputation. As soon as you threaten that they’ll come after you.

  15. Kendra
    Kendra says:

    I can’t believe the comments being said. I believe this story. Saying there was nothing wrong with the girl. You can be be calm enough talk and be freaking the next moment. How dare you say she is just trying to get a bed. You nothing about what it’s like to suffer with mental illness.

  16. Valerie Manuel
    Valerie Manuel says:

    The Patient Advocacy department will do nothing. I’m in the emergency room right this economy and have been here 4+ hours with no help at all for my boyfriend who wants to kill himself and was brought here by the police. After 3 hours here my boyfriend told the nurse that he needed help and sitting in the waiting room was making his thoughts of killing himself worse to the point he wanted to go home and just kill himself and get it over with and the nurse flat out said there was nothing he could do to help that if that’s what he wanted to do then he could come back after his suicide attempt and that they could help him faster then. What has the world come to that you actually have to try to kill yourself and fail to get any help. We’re at the point where he’s begging me to let him go home so he could finish his attempt to end his life and that if he succeeded to sue the hospital after his death. How is this helping our community who suffer from bad mental health? Answer that ottawa hospitals?

  17. Mt
    Mt says:

    To the people who don’t believe this happens, it does my wife has been going through the same thing at Kingston general hospital. She was suicidal and tried to admit herself Dr didn’t believe her and told her to go home and kill herself. I was there and freaked out made a complaint. Making the the complaint was probably the worst thing I could have done, now they treat her even worse. They will not even put her on meds that she needs to be stable so she can ” get help in the community “.

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