Alberta family loses son to suicide while he waited for mental health care

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Alberta family loses son to suicide while he waited for mental health care
WATCH: An Alberta family feels their loved one became a casualty of a broken mental health care system. They lost their son to suicide while he waited for psychiatric help and they want the province to consider universal mental health care. Jill Croteau has their story – Feb 9, 2023

WARNING: This story contains frank discussions about suicide.

Cards of condolences still grace the Gibennus home.

It’s barely been three weeks since Ken Gibennus took his own life. Ken’s parents Bob and Peggy are devastated because of how much he suffered.

“The last few years have been really hell for him,” Bob said. “I asked him: ‘Do you think about suicide?’ He said: ‘All the time.'”

Ken, 50, lived with depression and anxiety. His family said his psychiatrist ran out of medications to prescribe and recommended that he see a psychologist. But he was told he would have to wait until April to get that appointment.

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“That was a Tuesday he got the call and on Saturday, he died,” Bob said. “He left a very brief note that simply read, ‘I am sorry. I can’t do it anymore.'”

Ken Gibennus, in an undated photo. Courtesy: Gibbenus family
Ken Gibennus with his 2 children, Kendra and Hunter. Courtesy: Gibbenus family

He was kept on life support long enough for his family and his two adult children to be by his side. He died on Jan. 21.

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“When it was time to say goodbye, it felt like finally he’s got the peace he wished he could have had. I just said, ‘Sleep well my sweet boy,'” Bob said.

“We lost a beautiful man and that didn’t have to happen,” Peggy said. “He felt like the worst part of all of this would never seeing his children again.

“Can you imagine how much he suffered to leave his kids? They were his world.”

The family is pleading with the province to consider opening up the public mental health system to include private providers.

“How many more lives are going to be lost and have the devastation that we have? It’s just not right and they have to clean this up,” Peggy said.

Colin Aitchison, press secretary for Minister of Mental Health and Addiction Nicholas Milliken, said the provincial government is committed to supporting the mental health of all Albertans.

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“That is why the province spends more than $1 billion every year on mental health and addiction supports, through both the ministry of Mental Health and Addiction and Alberta Health Services,” Aitchison said. “We’ve also expanded virtual and in-person counselling services, especially in rural areas, so every Albertan can access affordable counselling options when they need them.”

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According to the Calgary executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the wait in Alberta’s public system is anywhere from six months to two years.

“Fifty-four per cent of Albertans last year weren’t able to get the help they need because they couldn’t afford it, because it’s not free and not universal. Someone needs to pay or wait it out,” Sara Jordan said. “We can do better.

“Universal health care applies from the neck down, and from there up it means we have access to emergency rooms and hospitals and medication, but that’s not enough,” Jordan said.

The CMHA offers free or low cost therapy and other support programs.

The waiting for Gibennus family didn’t end with their family member’s death. When they went to access grief counseling through Alberta Health Services, they were told the next available appointment was months away.

“September 7th was the date. We’ve got nine months to wait for grief counseling and Kenny had three months wait. He was absolutely desperate to stay alive,” Peggy said.

AHS said in a statement there is a high demand for the grief support program.

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“Wait times are longer than we want them to be. They vary depending on programming and circumstances of the client.

“The program continuously monitors wait lists and offers clients earlier appointments as they become available.”

A spokesperson added they are reaching out to the family to discuss their concerns as well as options that are available to them.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911. 

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 — all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

For a directory of support services in your area, visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Learn more about how to help someone in crisis on the Government of Canada website.

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