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Following suicide of loved one, New Glasgow woman says people need to speak out on issue

Robbie Weatherbee's soon-to-be son-in-law committed suicide last year opening her eyes to the need for change in how mental health is treated in Canada.
Robbie Weatherbee's soon-to-be son-in-law committed suicide last year opening her eyes to the need for change in how mental health is treated in Canada. - Sueann Musick

Robbie Weatherbee thought she was going to be planning a wedding in 2017.

The New Glasgow resident had welcomed home her daughter Joanna and soon-to-be son-in-law Bryan from Vancouver and a family wedding was going to be celebrated at their home.

The young couple had a place to stay, family close by and steady income. On the outside, they looked like they had it all, but inside, she said, Bryan’s unresolved childhood abuse and trauma was getting the best of him.

Weatherbee saw his pain. She felt the frustration when he tried to get help and she now lives with the guilt of not being able to do more after he took his own life on Jan. 18, 2017, leaving behind a nine-year-old son.

“In December, Bryan went to the ER at the Aberdeen Hospital in crisis, talking about hurting himself, and had a plan in place to do so. He was put in a side room alone for several hours. After assessing him, he was kept for the night. The next day he was supplied with antidepressants and released. He did not want to leave but was told he had lots of support and there was nothing more they could do for him.”

Weatherbee said the day after Bryan died, he received a letter from the health authority that had a pre-screen appointment for group therapy in the middle of February.

This letter arrived almost one month after Bryan was at the hospital and this would make it almost two months before his pre-screen.

“If he had been in any other kind of medical emergency that threatened his life, I am sure he would not have been sent away.”

The entire thing has left her family living a nightmare, she said, because not only have they lost a loved one, they are living with the guilt that they should have done more.

“Bryan told them he shouldn’t be leaving the hospital but they told him you have lots of support at home,” Weatherbee said. “We were supposed to help him. We were his support. It puts us in a place where we feel we have failed. I think our system is letting people down.”

Weatherbee said she shared Bryan’s story after his death with whoever would listen. She talked, or rather vented, but nothing took away their pain and frustration. She called mental health, looking for support groups for families who have lost loved ones to suicide, but she says she never got a call back.

Then someone mentioned Todd Leader’s name to her.

“It was brought up to me that he might be someone I want to see because we were trying to deal with Bryan’s death. We were trying to find answers. Just how to cope with it.”

She went to hear him speak at the NSCC and after months of feeling hopeless, she found someone who was making sense.

“His whole thing is that we need to fix the system,” she said. “There are lots of good people working in the system but the system itself is broken. It needs to be changed. He wrote a book, “It’s Not About Us.” I bought his book and read it and it was like a revelation and everyone needs to read this book. His message is that we need to speak out for change especially around mental health because what they are doing it is not working.”

Meeting Leader also connected her to the Facebook group, #How many more NSHA-IWK which has 2,000 members ranging from people who tried to end their own lives, to families who lost loved ones, to people working in the health care system.

“I hate when people say they choose to do this or that they were selfish. When people say that, I know they don’t understand. Suicidal people don’t want to die. They feel it’s their only option. He did everything he was supposed to do and the system failed him,” she said. “I should have got in the car and taken him to Truro and tell them we aren’t leaving until he got help. If I knew then what I know now there are a lot of things I would do differently.”

Weatherbee said after meeting Leader, reading his book and connecting with others on social media, she committed to being an advocate for change in the mental health system.

Mental health has to be talked about like any other illness, she said. Years ago, people didn’t talk about cancer, being pregnant or abuse. Suicide is still a taboo subject. It makes people uncomfortable to talk about but talking is better than losing a loved one.

The only way to make it normal is to keep talking, she said. Four thousand people die a year from suicide in Canada, but no one talks about it as being a problem that needs to change.

Her belief in Leader’s words coupled with her own loss have given

her a new direction in life. She is sharing her own experiences as well as Bryan’s, lobbying for change in the health authority and connecting with politicians for change in government policies and laws.

This Wednesday, Leader will be speaking at the NSCC and she wants everyone to come and hear his words. The event was organized by Samantha MacKenzie, a second-year nursing student at NSCC, who also sees Leader’s words as life changing. Weatherbee said if he can reach others, the way he reached her and MacKenzie, more people will talk about suicide and more will change.

“We have to do better as a society. I never imagined my family would be dealing with this tragedy”

The Nova Scotia Health Authority is unable to comment on specific cases or clients because of privacy reasons, but it says it is taking steps to improve its service in mental health and addictions.

"On behalf of Robert Graham, director of Mental Health and Addictions (Northern Zone) of the NSHA, we’d offer: Nova Scotia Health Authority continues to work collaboratively with partners to improve our response to the needs of individuals, their families and our communities. Our Mental Health and Addictions Crisis Response Team in New Glasgow has expanded by three new positions over the past few years. We are currently working to add an additional two positions to increase our capacity to provide urgent care follow up to those who need this level of support. We’ve just hired one position and are in the process of filling the other. We’ve also been piloting an Urgent Psychiatric Clinic for the past year to provide urgent assessment and follow up for clients in need. The Crisis Response Team makes referrals to that clinic based on their assessment and follow-up. “

Transforming Mental Health and Addictions

Wednesday, Feb. 14, at NSCC Pictou Campus

2:30-4:30 p.m.

Sponsored by Poulain’s Pharmacy in Stellarton

Speaker: Todd Leader, author of It’s Not About Us – The secret to transforming mental health and addiction system in Canada. He is a registered psychologist and social worker who has spent 27 years working as a transformational leader in health services in teaching Faculty of Science at Saint Mary’s University.

He was appointed by the Nova Scotia Minister of Health and Wellness to the ministerial panel on innovation in mental health and addictions.

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