Editors note: For the sake of confidentiality, the woman’s name in this article has been changed to Beth.
Beth didn’t wake up thinking this was the day she was going to end her life.
She didn't leave the house thinking she was going to kill herself, but after years of dealing with pain and sickness that has weighed on her mental health, she thought it was the best option for her.
“What has happened is three years of dealing with medical issues that haven’t been resolved that are affecting everyday life. My job, they are affecting my social life, my life with my family and my husband and in the past two years due to the health issues, I have put on 50 pounds in two years. I look in the mirror and I don’t see myself.”
Beth has become depressed and the medication she is on is always being adjusted, which she believes causes her mood swings that can triggered by a sound or a touch.
On the morning of Sept. 15, her day started with an angry exchange with her teenage son and ended with what she describes as a mental health breakdown.
“I decided I am going to walk to Thorburn from my home in New Glasgow and meet up with a friend of mine and decompress and talk it out,” she said.
This was not something Beth would have even considered doing in the past three years, especially since she was wearing an air boot for a broken foot, but on this day, it seemed rational.
“I started to walking and texted my friend that I intended to go see, but she was working. So I texted my other friend and she was at school. I just wanted to know if she was in class and I said, ‘I am running away from home,’ and I don’t think she took me seriously.”
Her first stop was McDonald’s Restaurant on East River Road, New Glasgow, where she bought a coffee and sat in a corner, trying to calm her mind by colouring on a children’s activity page.
“Up until that point, I was not thinking suicide. I was thinking of getting away and just getting out of the situation and talking it out with someone.”
But the more she thought about it, the more she was making suicide seem like a good alternative.
“I am thinking in my head, and all of sudden it came to me and I know what to do. I can commit suicide and make it look like an accident. (My husband) would get insurance money and the kids would never know it was suicide and everybody would be better off.”
She had a plan and was ready to act on it.
“I was going to finish my coffee and go out to East River Road, wait until there was bunch of traffic and go out in my boot and then I figured it would look like I just couldn’t walk fast enough to get out of the way.”
As Beth sat with her coffee staring out at East River Road, her husband was texting and calling her from his work, wanting to make sure things were OK after a rough start to their day.
“I texted him because he kept texting me, where are you? I would say, never mind, and not answer him. Then I finally texted him back and said, just remember these things. I love you. It’s not your fault and I am going to make it look like an accident so you can get the insurance.”
Panicked, he continued to call and text her as well as reaching out to friends to do the same. He called the police and she shut off her phone in case they were able to trace it. By early afternoon, she agreed to meet her best friend and go for a drive that eventually led to the Aberdeen Hospital.
Beth and her husband arrived at the Aberdeen Hospital’s emergency room after 5 p.m. and were told by staff that the mental health crisis team was gone so she would be admitted for the weekend and the team would see her Monday.
The crisis team met with her on Monday, after which time she felt she wasn’t ready to go home. “If I am this way and showing it to my kids, I didn’t like that. I knew it wasn’t healthy to go home. I can’t control it.”
Beth said the team gave her some phone numbers to call if she needed to talk to someone and they said she would have her husband to look after her. She tried calling the number, but the woman she needed to speak with only works two days a week in this position.
By Monday evening she was back at the Aberdeen Hospital and readmitted, waiting to see the crisis team the next morning.
“I did not see the crisis team in the morning. They were too busy. I saw a social worker and explained to her the same thing and told her I wasn’t ready.”
As she waited in the hospital, she contacted a psychologist through her husband’s employee assistance program and was talking to him when she was discharged by an emergency room doctor.
At a loss as to what to do next, her husband contacted their family doctor who suggested she look at going to the Colchester hospital for care.
“Do you think you are going to get to another hospital after you’ve been there twice?”
Since Sept. 15, Beth said she is continuing to see a therapist through her husband’s EAP and has made a self-referral to mental health.
“I had a really good intake meeting at mental health here,” she said. Her obsessive-compulsive disorder was never treated and she feels a lot of her impulsivity comes from that. She got on the phone and talked to the psychiatrist on the crisis team about medication and then to the psychologist with EAP about the connection.
She is currently deciding between two different programs she can take that everyone feels will benefit her. One is an outpatient program for six weeks and the second is a year long. She feels optimistic about both, but the road to get to where she is now has been a rough one that is still riddled with dark days and suicidal thoughts.
“If I didn’t advocate for myself nothing would have happened,” she said.
Even now, as they adjust her medication and look at new programs, there are days when she finds it difficult to function.
“All day yesterday I laid on the couch, I cried,” she said. “They are doing a meds adjustment. The crisis team called me at home, after talking to mental health, and is starting a new medication. They said it is going to be a rough four weeks. It has already been a rough time.“
Stigma is still there
There is a burden of guilt on Beth’s shoulders when she sits down at the table to be interviewed.
Before the interview begins, the 38-year-old Pictou County woman says she is ashamed that she is not allowing her real name to be used in the interview, but the risk is just too high.
“I feel like I am doing exactly what I don't want to do,” she said. “I want to stand for mental illness and say it is a mental illness and you shouldn’t be ashamed but yet I have to do it anonymously because I am thinking if I said my name, it gets out (where I work) and the stigma is there, I feel exactly what I am trying to fight against. I can’t do that to someone else’s business and I have to have a job to go back to.”
So Beth it is. Her name is not fact, but the rest of her story is and it is one she believes needs to be told in order to show people how the province’s mental health system is in crisis.
She has taken her story to Pictou West MLA Karla MacFarlane who brought the issue up in legislature trying to find them some answers.
“This past week, I have had three calls from constituents with mental health issues saying that their psychiatrist called and was sorry, but they can no longer take them because they are overwhelmed and too busy. One in five people suffers from mental health issues, and 46,000 people live in Pictou County. Does the minister believe that 1.5 psychiatrists in Pictou County can serve all those in need with mental health issues?” MacFarlane asked Minister of Health and Wellness Randy Delorey.
Delorey told MacFarlane the province has invested $8.6 million in mental health initiatives, in both health and education, which will allow for another 70 additional clinicians across the province.
Delorey stressed that not all mental health services are provided by psychiatrists, but other health care professionals including social workers, nurses and psychologists.
“There are many, many different health care providers who provide supports that are very important to helping our individuals with mental health challenges. There's a wide range. I think it's also important to understand that there's a wide range of mental health supports that are needed because of the conditions of individual patients at any given time,” he said.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority was contacted for comment but there was no response by deadline.