Kim Titus received a text from her son, Braden, about a week after he decided to go cold turkey off antidepressant pills. “ I'm f***** up,” the text read. “ Those pills hurt me more than they ever helped me.
Kim Titus received a text from her son, Braden, about a week after he decided to go cold turkey off antidepressant pills.
“ I'm f***** up,” the text read. “ Those pills hurt me more than they ever helped me.”
Despite being the owner of a home renovation company at 31 years old, Braden felt he needed to make changes in his life.
Frustrated at a lack of traction in his life, Titus said Braden decided to go on medication and was prescribed the “ mildest antidepressant possible” by his family doctor.
“ He was on the pills for about seven or eight months,” Titus said. “ Then, he came around in August and said he was back working out, he quit smoking, he wasn't drinking, he was taking his dog for long hikes.
“ So we were high-fiving. Then, he said he quit the pills cold turkey.”
In a visit with their family doctor, Titus said Braden was asked whether he had ever had thoughts of suicide. “ Yes,” he said. “ If it wasn't for my mom and dad and dog, I wouldn't be here.”
The doctor asked Braden if he had thought about how he would do it. He had. Braden agreed to talk, but with available psychiatrists booked up, he was warned it might take some time to secure an appointment.
“ He was badly broken. I never had seen him like that,” Titus said. “ But we don't have any blame towards the family doctor. I know he had (Braden's) best interest at heart. He was just working in a very badly broken system.”
An appointment with a psychiatrist was not available for Braden for three weeks.
“ We felt because he had his mom and dad and dog he knew to hang on,” Titus said. “ He didn't make it three weeks.”
According to statistics from the Alberta office of the chief medical examiner, rates of suicides in the province spiked more than 30 per cent in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014.
The province is currently responding to 32 recommendations made as part of a mental health review.
Six priority actions estimated to cost more than $6 million – including the addition of new medical detox beds, and the establishment of a “ performance-monitoring framework” meant to track results – are currently underway. The remaining 26 recommendations will receive focus when funding becomes available, according to the Province.
But Titus called certain aspects of mental health care – including a lack of education surrounding pharmaceutical use – an “ epidemic.”
“ It's not a Titus problem, it's not an Airdrie problem, it's a Canadian problem, a North American problem,” she said. “ I don't pretend to know a lot about it aside from our tragic first-hand experience. (But every pharmaceutical ad) has disclaimers. Every one of those side effects has very real consequences to very real people.
“ I'm not saying no pills ever, but I do feel that (sometimes) we are treating situational depression as if it's clinical.”
According to Dr. Laura Calhoun, medical director of mental health in Alberta, doctors go through rigorous training in order to create comprehensive treatment plans for individual patients.
As individual antidepressant drugs have varied side effects, it is up to individual doctors to continue learning about each medication.
“ Once you're a physician, you have the obligation to continue with medical education,” she said. “ You have to have a number of hours that you take on continuing medical education every year and report that.
“ So there is a requirement on behalf of all of us to stay up to date.”
Titus said a lack of connectivity and awareness between mental health agencies was causing a “ disconnect.”
“ In health services, how can you extend an olive branch, how can you extend resources to health when you don't know who each other are?” she said. “ The only way we're going to fix it is in the community spirit and all working together.”
“ In all aspects of health, (unfortunately) it always takes a tragedy to bring things to light,” Mayor Peter Brown said. “ (Titus) is championing mental health.”
Airdrie MLA Angela Pitt said she was focused on improving mental health care in the province.
“ It's a priority of mine to make mental health front and centre in the minds of those involved,” she said. “ (We need to) improve access and quality of mental health services not only for Airdrie but all of Alberta.”
According to Titus, her focus would continue to be on lobbying the provincial government to implement stricter curriculum surrounding pharmaceutical use while changing the ways multiple medical and government agencies collaborate on mental health.
“ Every day, people are dying. Why is it taking so long?” Titus said. “ Part of it is that we're not working together. I say, we're looking for someone to lead the charge. We're looking for helpers, too. Get in the boat, grab an oar, and start paddling in the same direction.
“ We're looking to stand shoulder to shoulder, saying, that's enough. How many more have to go? It's unacceptable for us to carry on this way.”
This story is part one in a two-part series on Alberta mental health. Next week, read about what initiatives are currently underway in Airdrie.