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'Extreme neglect': Youth mental health advocates calling for change to B.C. support system

Two young Vancouver Island women are sounding the alarm on the very system that is supposed to help people.

Two young Vancouver Island women are sounding the alarm on the very system that is supposed to help people.

Ella Hale, 18 and Emma Epp, 19, have both been in and out of hospitals after suicide attempts and self-harm as kids. When they turned 17, it was a different story. They claim to have been dismissed and mistreated at one Island psychiatric ward. 

“I’ve been struggling with my mental health since I was 11,” says Epp. “I was begging for help and they decided to let me leave even though I was asking for help. They even gave me the rest of the pills back I didn’t take.”

Both women have come forward to speak about their alarming experiences while in the psychiatric emergency service department (PES) at the Royal Jubilee Hospital (RJH) in Victoria and want to make sure change is actually going to happen.

“In RJH, it’s more pill pushing and getting you out as quick as they can, which is really hard,” says Hale, adding she was discharged with very little support in June of 2020. 

"I went to PES for the first time. I spent the night and in the morning a psychologist saw me and talked at me and told me I’d be fine when I was 25, nothing was wrong with me, I was on too many medications, I was just a teenager and at the end of all that... said that if I killed myself, my dad wouldn’t care,” Hale tells Glacier Media. 

They created a Facebook group called PES: A Pathetic Excuse for Support, which rapidly grew to more than 1,400 members.

“A lot of the stories of all ages, not just youth, is just not being treated like humans,” explains Hale. “We didn’t want to sit around and watch our friends die.”

B.C. Premier John Horgan and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Sheila Malcolmson have met with the girls and both say more needs to be done.

“These two young women followed what they thought was the right course and they didn’t get a positive outcome. We need to make sure we do a better job of it,” said Horgan during a March 19 press conference.

Malcolmson thanks the women for sharing their concerns.

"When Premier Horgan and I met with them, we heard from them that our system needs to do better, and we reconfirmed our commitment that people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity when they are accessing mental health services anywhere in the province,” she says in a written statement. 

Island Health (VIHA) says it’s taking steps immediately to respond and address challenges at PES.

"We are committed to immediately following up on several steps, including strengthening the process for patients to have their voices heard to inform future improvements; strengthening professional development and strongly encouraging participation; ongoing and continued meetings with stakeholders; having our clinical and non-clinical senior mental health and substance use leadership on-site at PES in the coming weeks to better understand the experience and challenges of both patients and staff and better-informing patients of the process to formally enter a care concern,” says an Island Health spokesperson in an email to Glacier Media.

Hale and Epp question if that is enough and want to be part of the process to make changes.

“If VIHA is investigating VIHA, I don’t know how much change is going to happen,” says Hale. "I don’t want the conversation to end. We aren’t done because we met with the premier. I am worried people in our group will get discouraged.”

Complaints are still coming in from people to their Facebook group about experiences and mistreatment at PES.

“(It’s) emotional abuse and extreme neglect and mistreatment of all ages,” says Hale. 

The pair are expecting a follow-up meeting with the premier and minister in the coming weeks for an update but say they’d like the opportunity to work with PES to provide feedback.