One year after Nevaeh Charette suffered a traumatic brain injury, her mother, Renee Charette, called her a “miracle.”
In February 2016, Nevaeh was walking along Highway 855 near Holden, Alta. when a truck struck her in the back of the head with its mirror. She suffered a spinal cord injury and was given a one per cent chance of survival. She not only survived but her mother said she “thrived.”
“She was almost dead and recovered,” Renee said. “She wasn’t the same person.”
The trauma of the accident and the injury to her brain left the 14-year-old battling mental illness.
Nevaeh went back to school after her injury and it was after a bad report card that her mom really noticed a difference in her child.
“She was depressed. We could tell she was depressed,” her mother said. “It was super hard for her to go from getting straight As to now she’s failing every class.”
Nevaeh started to self-harm, her mom said. She tried to jump out of a moving vehicle and her mother rushed her to hospital.
“We got her into the hospital and they let her go,” Renee said. “I said, ‘I’m not going to come get her. This child is going to kill herself. You’ve got to keep her.'”
WATCH: Quinn Ohler has covered Nevaeh’s story for several years and joined Global News at Noon to talk about the devastating pain her family is going through, and how other parents can spot the warning signs in their child before it’s too late.
The mom was sent home and she said all she was given was a phone number to call. She was told she would have to wait up to 90 days to see a mental health professional.
“When your child’s going to die and you know they’re going to die, you don’t have three months to wait,” she said through tears.
When Nevaeh tried to die by suicide again, the appointment was rushed, but Renee said by that point her daughter had made up her mind.
On Dec 5. 2017 Nevaeh Charette died by suicide.
Her death makes her one of 19 youth under the age of 19 in Alberta to die by suicide in 2017. In 2016, 36 youth died by suicide.
WATCH: One year after Nevaeh Charette was hit by a truck while walking on the side of a highway, she opens up about her journey. (Filed March 2017).
Deborah Johansson is a psychologist at CASA Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health and has been working with children and youth for most of her decades-long career.
“The number one factor would be a sense of hopelessness,” Johansson said about why children turn to suicide and self-harm. “We do know it’s happening. It’s really unfortunate and it’s not as uncommon as people think it is.”
Johansson said she’s seen children as soon as they can verbalize say they want to die or want to harm themselves. She said it often has to do with trauma in the brain — either physical, like a head injury, or emotional like bullying, abuse or the loss of a loved one.
The psychologist said trauma is like a bruise on the brain and the part that is usually impacted is the frontal cortex, which is the place where reason, decision-making and emotional flexibility are established.
“Often children with a history of mental health issues have problems with impulsivity, emotional regulation,” she said. “Their responses can be, ‘I don’t know what else to do with myself, I’m upset, I’m in distress, I don’t know where to go, I don’t know how to help myself.’ And so they’ll respond sometimes by harming themselves.”
It also reprograms how the brain functions, she explained.
“A brain develops with trauma as an organizing principle so the brain recognizes the world as a trauma world.”
WATCH: Deborah Johansson, a psychologist at CASA Child, Adolescent and Family Mental Health, says children can become suicidal at a very young age. She offers advice for parents, including behavioural changes they should look out for.
So what should parents be on the lookout for in their children when it comes to mental health? Johnasson said any change in their baseline behaviour is something that should be paid attention to.
If your quiet kid becomes boisterous and loud, there may be something going on. Likewise, if your loud and outgoing child starts showing introverted behaviour, it’s time to have a discussion with them.
“Listen to your kids and believe them when they are telling you despite how young they are,” Johansson said.
The psychologist added if your kids talk about suicide or wanting to harm themselves be upfront with them.
“Ask them directly, ‘How have you been feeling? Have you been feeling like hurting yourself? Have you been feeling like killing yourself?'” she said.
If your child or someone you know is in need of help, click here for access to resources.