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The New Glasgow News
Shawna’s story began this spring. Her 20-something son, who was always extremely shy, had just had his first serious relationship end.
In April, he spiralled into a deep, dark depression that saw him in his unlit room, unable to sleep, eat or perform even day-to-day tasks.
Scared and at her wit’s end, she took him to the Aberdeen Hospital and he was prescribed the anti-depressant Paxil which she was told would help alleviate his depression, but instead it made things worse.
Shawna said the side effects of the drug were probably more devastating than his symptoms of depression. He started to threaten to kill him himself, sending her “goodbye texts” and wandering off without any contact for hours and hours.
“It was just crazy thinking,” she said. “You couldn’t get him to do anything. She said the final straw was when he spent 32 hours straight on the rocks at a local beach, contemplating whether he wanted to take his own life.
After this he was admitted to the Aberdeen Hospital’s mental health unit where she hoped he would finally get the help he needed on an inpatient basis, but after more than three days of seeing him sitting in a room without a visit by any psychiatrist, she knew she needed to speak out.
After complaining loud enough and even being told she should leave the unit at one point, Shawna said her son first saw a psychiatrist five days after he was admitted and they were told he needed to be kept on the drug Paxil because it takes 30 days to work properly, despite the side effects. He was released from the unit a week after he was admitted and back in her care.
For the next month, she said, things were going from bad to worse. He was in and out of Aberdeen’s mental health unit as well as Kentville and Antigonish’s units for short three-day stays. After being released from the units each time, she would have to call the police to help search for him because the suicidal thoughts kept coming and the wandering continued.
Finally, Shawna said she was told by a police officer that maybe the only way to get him the medical treatment he needed was to have him arrested because then he would be in the court system and sent to Dartmouth for a 30-day mental health assessment.
This opportunity came a few months later when he was charged with assault.
“So now I am thinking, ‘great, we will get him the help he needs,’” Shawna said. “We got him a lawyer and the first thing the lawyer told us was that he won’t be doing 30 days in a hospital but 30 days in Burnside. That’s when I said I would look after him.”
Shawna said he returned to the court system a few times since his first arrest because he breached conditions of an undertaking. Now he is on house arrest, under her care, and without the help of any psychiatric counseling.
Her own family doctor is slowing weaning him off the Paxil and he was going for 20-minute sessions for mental health counselling in New Glasgow with a psychologist once every two weeks, but she said those appointments have been so irregular because of rescheduling issues that he probably only gets to 20 minutes once a month.
“He was such a good kid up until this point, never even raised his voice at me,” she said. “I thought I would be able to get him help, but even outpatients won’t return your calls. It’s a horrible system. I know they are understaffed, but it’s failing people.”
Shawna said it was suggested that she also attend mental health counselling to talk to someone about her issues, but her three calls to book her first appointment have not been returned.
“We are basically doing it on our own now because we have no faith in the system at all,” she said. “I go to work and I come home. I feel guilty for putting him in the court system, but I thought I was going to get him a longer assessment of 30 days. Thirty days in a hospital is exactly what we need.”