N.B. child and youth advocate says action still needed following Lexi Daken inquest

Click to play video: 'N.B. child and youth advocate calls for systemic change in mental health care'
N.B. child and youth advocate calls for systemic change in mental health care
WATCH: New Brunswick's child and youth advocate is calling for systemic change within the mental health care system. This comes in the wake of a coroner's inquest into the 2021 suicide of a Fredericton teen. Silas Brown has more. – Nov 9, 2023

New Brunswick’s child and youth advocate says that the 2021 death by suicide of a Fredericton teen has resulted in some positive change, but that the province is still lacking a properly resourced mental health system.

A five-day coroner’s inquest into the death of 16-year-old Lexi Daken wrapped up Wednesday, with the five-member jury making nine recommendations to ensure similar deaths can be avoided in the future. The recommendations centred on ensuring patients are aware of services and that information flows smoothly within the system and to patients.

But Lamrock said the jury’s mandate was too narrow to touch on what really needs to change in the province’s mental health system.

“In many ways, this report paints a bit of a picture of, ‘Oh, if only there was better marketing or brochures about the programs,'” Lamrock said in an interview.

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“In many cases, the services aren’t there and that wasn’t part of the jury’s mandate to look at the whole system.”

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Daken took her own life on Feb. 24, 2021, just six days after she was discharged from the emergency room at the Dr. Edward Chalmers Regional Hospital without seeing a psychiatrist. Both Daken’s guidance counsellor Shelley Hanson and her father Chris Daken testified that they are worried that Lexi agreed to be discharged without seeing a psychiatrist because she was worried about being a burden.

Her death has led to changes in emergency rooms across Horizon health authority, including dedicated psychiatric teams embedded in the emergency rooms of its four regional hospitals. Horizon has also introduced one-at-a-time therapy for both children and adults who urgently need to see a mental health professional.

While crisis care has improved, Lamrock says, the province is still missing a well-resourced primary mental health-care system.

“Two and a half years ago, Lexi Daken went to the ER in crisis and she didn’t get the help she should have had and it might have saved her life,” he said.

“As to what was done wrong on that night, there has been a response that has taken some serious lessons and shown some improvement. What we haven’t yet done is ask the question, where do you go short of being in crisis.”

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Horizon did not make anyone available for an interview and the authority’s regional director of mental health and addictions Rachel Boehm turned down an interview request following her testimony at the inquest on Wednesday morning.

Minister of health Bruce Fitch was also not made available for an interview.

Lamrock said that serious systemic change is needed to better serve youth in the province.

“There’s poor integration of services where we don’t have school personnel talking to health personnel, talking to social development. We’ve got a lack of trained professionals in the system and we don’t have a credible training plan for more mental health professionals,” he said.

“If you’re 50 psychologists short of where you need to be and your universities are only graduating three or four a year, you don’t have a human resources plan.”

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