Thursday, August 14, 2014

Suicide, Kids and Depression: What is happening in BC schools?

So I haven't posted about depression, or suicide, or the death of Robin Williams, because everyone else is, and I really, really hate being where everyone else is. When I was in kindergarten and the teacher was handing around Hallowe'en construction paper, we could choose black or orange. Everyone was choosing orange, and although I preferred orange, I chose black, because, hell if I was going to be the same as everyone else.

That said, in my life, I have lost two family members to suicide, and it's profoundly painful. At least, it was for me. My little sister, seven years younger, whom I, to a significant degree, parented, drove into the Seymour Test Forest on August 15th, 1998, and gassed herself to death. She had bipolar disorder and it wasn't responding to meds and she'd had enough. Then, just three months ago, the father of my children, with whom I was half of a couple for seventeen years, shot himself to death - presumably because of the challenges he faced as a person with a severe disability and intractable pain.

So Robin Williams' death hit me rather hard, and I keep thinking of how it must have been to be him, in those last moments, as he followed through and kicked the chair, with the noose around his neck.

And of course, because I'm a teacher, and a special ed teacher at that, and because I see teens with serious depressive disorders every single day at work, my mind spins and cycles back to their plight, and the plight of people all over the province with mental illnesses, and the results of the failure to support these people, and the destruction left in the path of the government that has declared them expendable nonentities.

Oh, people....oh parents...employers...politicians...when will we ever achieve the collective consciousness required to understand that our children need us?! There are so, so many children out there, and they are hurting so badly, some of them. So very many.

There are supposed to be mental health services. There are supposed to be social work services. There should be services in the Children's Hospital. There should be support for struggling parents. Victims of violent crime should receive both emotional and financial support. That's the British Columbia I once knew. But it's not the BC we live in today.

I have a child who sustained the unthinkable: an abduction by a stranger, complete with handcuffs, knife, blindfold, and sexual assault. She was thirteen, and hadn't hit puberty. Her assault happened in BC, but I lived in the Yukon at the time, and when the entire mental health department of the Yukon quit, I left town and a damned good job to come to BC, where I had family for support, and where I had experienced a compassionate public health system.

Ironically, even though Victim Services in the Yukon had called their counterparts here to arrange paperwork and so forth, I arrived in the office in Surrey the day after Gordon Campbell's government axed the financial support for victims of violent crimes for 'pain and suffering'. My desperately distressed child could only claim time lost for work, which, as a 13 year old, she didn't have. She could also claim losses out of pocket, which amounted to about $50 for clothes that she threw in the dumpster after she got home. I, who was out a good seventy five grand or so, could claim nothing to help my child, and was on my own to find her the help she needed.There was nothing for my child for counselling, for schooling, or for anything resembling rehabilitative support. So I lived in my dearest friend's driveway, in my parents' motorhome, and I microparented for the next six months. My friends will never know how much I love them for that.

When school resumed in the fall, she was able to attend grade ten. But when I went to what I thought was a meeting to arrange her Individual Education Plan (IEP), I was told that despite PTSD, an identified learning disability, current grief (her dad was now in hospital following a life threatening car accident) and other fallout, she did not qualify as special needs.

Think about that. This is a child with fallout from extreme trauma due to abduction. A child with a pre-existing learning disability. A child expressing serious emotional and behavioural pain. A child from a single parent home, with a potentially terminally ill father and a struggling, then unemployed mother. And she did not qualify for assistance.

That was at the very beginning of the cuts.

Depression among teens, even without their having been abducted and raped at knifepoint, is a very, very severe and life threatening illness. In my small town, a teen died of depression just last year. Anyone reading this will have heard of Amanda Todd. Children die all the time because they think there is no hope for their future. And there are people who know how to help, and who want to help, right there, in their schools. Trained people, who care, and who have the skills to keep them alive. But they cannot help, because in my school, which is typical, there are 500 kids for every counsellor. Five hundred. Kids. Per counsellor.

My child was sort of lucky. She had a parent with the training, experience, passion, and emotional strength (just barely) to get her out of town, into counselling, and advocate like a lunatic until her needs were met. Not every child is lucky enough to have a parent with a masters in special ed, a whole lot of contacts, and a personality of relentless focus. Some children are immigrants whose parents have no English. Some are in poverty. Some have parents with addiction and mental health issues of their own.

How many of the children who aren't supported because we are running a school and societal system driven by the bottom line, could have been Robin Williams? Ernest Hemmingway? Nelson Mandela? To how many children of great promise, and great pathos, must we bid adieu, because we couldn't afford them?

That's what I want to know. That's what I want my elected officials to address. That's the pain that needs to be heard.

How many more children's lives do we name, 'disposable,' because we can't afford to help?


  1. We need to educate and advocate for strong families that take responsibility for their own children using the health and other resources we are lucky to have in a first world country, not an attitude of entitlement that demands that a nanny state take care of all our problems. Too many kids aren't being parented and nurtured, that's the real problem. Let's address that and hold parents responsible instead of blaming government.

    1. Addressing that includes addressing the problem of lack of resources, in school and without. I went from agency to agency trying to get help for my child, and found virtually nothing at all to meet her needs. Nobody wants a, 'nanny state,' but if a child is born to a parent who isn't able to help, do we, as a society, want to make the choice to condemn that child to lack of services? Poverty? Or do we want to choose to help all children, so they will have a chance to grow into competent adults who can contribute to society and deal with their challenges despite their rocky starts?

  2. Parents cant be held responsible if the government isnt supplying the resources