Education featured Healthcare

An island in turmoil: Living the Cape Breton mental health crisis

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Cape Breton is in a crisis situation.  We are a beautiful little island, a “rock in the sea”, with a population of around 100,000. We have a diverse and wonderful culture. We are also having some serious issues.

Saturday past I attended the funeral of a beautiful 13 year old girl who was murdered by words. It was the most heartbreaking service I have ever attended. She was the third child in our school district to die by suicide due to bullying in the last few months. It really makes you sit back and think, what the hell are we doing wrong? What is happening on our little island? How can we save these children?

Photo CBC

After a lot of tears and talking to my kids and deep thought and prayer, this is what I came up with. Our island is falling apart. We are losing the services our children need most.

Bullying has always been part of growing up. It sucks and it is hard and it hurts. I remember in grade 7 and 8 going to see the guidance counselor often, he was a great man and would chat with me and help me through it. Our children today don’t always have that. Many schools ( including my boys schools ) have shared guidance. Meaning the guidance counselor may be at your school or at one of the other schools they have to cover. If you are in a crisis, well, you wait.

School psychologists are covering even more territory. Psych Ed evaluations can take years, leaving kids falling behind waiting for assessments that could explain why they are having difficulties. If a fish is being tested on how well they climb a tree, they will live their lives thinking they are stupid. The same goes for children. These kids can not go years waiting to find out what their learning disabilities are.

Of course, if you are able to afford it, you can pay the $1,200 or so out of pocket rather then wait, but the poverty level is so high in Cape Breton, not many can afford it. So, the kids fall behind, they are either being bullied for being different or lashing out from not being understood. We can’t keep losing these services that our children so desperately need in the school system. The teachers are  wonderful, but the system is broken. They can only work with what they have. Our small schools are closing, the ones that are staying open are filled to bursting.

If you are really worried about your child, you can take them to the doctor for a chat, see if there is something deeper happening. That is, if you are one of the lucky ones to have a family doctor. My children and I have been on the waiting list for a few years. We were lucky to have a clinic we could go to but it recently closed. Our list of diagnosis is, in no particular order, autism, ADHD, Tourettes, SPD, OCD, Gingival Hyperphasia, various issues related to micro prematurity, and B12 deficiency requiring bi-weekly injections.

We have no primary care. The nearest walk in clinic is 40 minutes away, and they only take a certain amount of patients a day. They also can’t prescribe the narcotics that one of my sons needs to function on a daily basis. Our emergency room is only open from 8-3 and is often closed on weekends, emergency rooms also don’t prescribe his narcotics. The next closest hospital is so overcrowded that it is the norm to wait 8+ hours to be seen, not at the fault of the wonderful nurses and docs who do their best with what they have, but with the system itself that is broken.

We also have mental health services you can turn to, if you don’t mind waiting. I recently waited 8 months for an intake appointment for my son. From what I am hearing we are some of the lucky ones, the average wait times are over a year. If you are in crisis you simply can’t wait for a year to see a mental health specialist.

With all of these hurdles facing us on this island, it’s not hard to lose hope. How are we as parents supposed to help our kids if we can’t even get them mental health help in a timely fashion? We can monitor their social media, watch their phones, have all their passwords….. but it still takes a village. We need and deserve access to the specialists that can help our kids.

This post was originally published on the One not so bored housewife blog

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