[Content warning: Article mentions suicide]
KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – This is a story about William (not his real name), a man who was forcibly handcuffed by police and taken to the QEII when he had a mental health breakdown. William came out of the hospital feeling even worse than when he went in.
Well, you readers may remember William, who I have reported on quite a few times in the Nova Scotia Advocate.
William lives in Halifax, where he tries to make ends meet on social assistance. He lives with bipolar disorder, and spends much of the time by himself. He has a sister who lives in Truro, but he is originally from Labrador.
Anyway, this Sunday I sat down with William and his sister, as they both told me what is happening with William. William recently had a mental health breakdown and 911 got called on him by another resident of his building.
I should also mention that the only reason why his sister got contacted when this happened is because the superintendent of his building was in the hallway at the time police showed up at the building. The superintendent knew a bit about William’s situation and had his sister’s number as an emergency contact. The police had William in cuffs and would not remove them until he saw the doctor so he could not call his sister himself.
As soon as his sister, who lives in Truro, got the phone call she hit the road and drove to Halifax as quickly as she could get there. She arrived at the QEII in the nick of time because William was just going in to see the doctor.
William himself is now very much pissed off at the mental health system in Nova Scotia. He has actually been pissed off at the system for some time, but this was the last straw and now William is getting ready to move back to Labrador.
For the past couple of weeks William has lived at this sister’s place in Truro. She has a plan for how to get him back to Labrador.
When I met with the two of them for coffee, they were in the city packing up William’s stuff and cleaning out his apartment.
I asked William, “How do you best describe from your personal understanding why 911 got called on you two weeks ago?”
“Well Kendall, my anxiety and depression had been acting up time and time again over this past month. Also, Kendall, I told this meighbour I was planning to commit suicide. That is why they called the cops,” William said.
I next asked William how he felt about the way he was treated by the police.
“Kendall, first I want to point out this is not the first time I visited the QEII emergency department for mental health related reasons. However this is the first time ever that someone called 911 on me. I was planning to go down to the hospital that exact day on my own anyway. However, while I was getting ready to go to the hospital the police showed up at my door and they insisted I should go down with them instead. When I tried to refuse, they then put me in handcuffs. Also while at Emergency I found that there were two major differences between going to the hospital on my own and being taken by the police,” William said.
“First, I can say it was a good thing the superintendent of my building came out into the hallway to see what was going on right when police were escorting me out of my apartment and putting me in handcuffs. Otherwise my sister would never have known about me going to the hospital until after I got home that night,” he told me.
“While at the hospital, the officer would not remove the cuffs until the doctor came out to call my name. When I asked him to remove the cuffs he said I had to wait for the doctor to call me in before he could do that. I wanted to call one of my good friends who I know through my employment readiness program, to let them know I was in the hospital. The officer advised me that he was not allowed to remove the cuffs even to make a phone call – until I see the doctor, that is the protocol. The officer also said he had to go with me if I had to use the washroom,” William said.
“When you go to the hospital on your own for mental health reasons, they do not always bring in a psychiatrist to see you. The regular GP who examines you first makes the decision as to whether or not that is needed. When you go escorted by police seeing both a GP and a psychiatrist is mandatory before being allowed to leave the hospital,” William explained.
Anyway, as I mentioned earlier, William’s sister arrived at the hospital in the nick of time. While William was in seeing the doctor, she had a talk of her own with the police officer and she told him that keeping the cuffs on for over an hour is only going to worsen William’s anxiety. William himself said that his anxiety went through the roof. His sister made sure the officer kept the cuffs off him during the rest of his visit to the emergency department.
William’s sister told me while we were sitting down for coffee that she was not impressed with how the QEII emergency department handled her brother. She knew that he did not have to be admitted to hospital. As well, in the past William tried to get accepted into Connections Halifax, but he was told on several occasions that his mental state did not qualify him to go there. She is also not impressed that there is no place that can help William out socially.
She now believes it is time for William to move back to Labrador. William’s sister got in touch with a friend of hers who works as a mental health professional back in Labrador. This friend just arrived in Nova Scotia just yesterday. Following the two weeks of self isolation they are hitting the road to drive William back themselves. Through family members and having one close friend of the family who is a landlord they already got an apartment waiting for William to move into once he arrives.
I asked William’s sister if she had done any research on what William will be up against once he is back in Labrador. What does she know about the mental health system there, and what about income assistance in that province?
“Well, Kendall, all of our family back home in Labrador know what is going on and why William is moving back. There is mental health treatment already set up that he will be receiving once he arrives back. I was able to set everything up with the help of my friend. My friend is travelling with William and I so she is there just in case William has any breakdowns while en route,” she replied.
I wish William well and hope they have a safe trip!
Kendall Worth is an award-winning anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.
Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Crisis Line: 1-888-429-8167
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