An article published in today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By Clare Mellor
Karen Ellet [pictured] says she still misses Howard Hyde’s amazing voice.
“I miss his voice, his beautiful singing voice," the Dartmouth woman said Thursday.
Ellet, who was Hyde’s common- law wife, said she has been dealing with her grief since he died on Nov. 22, 2007, after a violent conflict with jail guards at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth.
But she is taking comfort in the recommendations resulting from the provincial inquiry into his death.
If the suggestions outlined in a report released Wednesday are adopted, they will make a huge difference in the way mentally ill people in crisis are dealt with, Ellet said.
“I am very pleased. She is a very compassionate judge," she said of Anne Derrick, the provincial court judge who helmed the 11-month fatality inquiry.
She said Hyde would be pleased with Derrick’s report, too.
“He would be ecstatic about it," Ellet said. “He would like to see (the recommendations) implemented, so the (report) is not sitting on a library shelf."
In her report, Derrick rejected a medical examiner’s conclusion that Hyde died of excited delirium and found instead that the struggle with the jail guards played a role in his death.
Hyde, a 45-year-old musician who was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his 20s, was having a psychotic episode at the jail when he was forced to lie on his stomach with his hands behind his back. The restraint technique may have interfered with his ability to breathe, Derrick found.
“He did not die because he was mentally ill," she wrote in her report.
Ellet said she still has difficulty thinking of the emotional and physical pain that Hyde endured in the last 30 hours of his life.
On the night of Nov. 21, 2007, Ellet called a crisis hotline to complain that Hyde had assaulted her while in a psychotic state.
Police arrested Hyde, but not before Ellet told them her husband had not been taking his medication and needed psychiatric help.
“Howard didn’t understand why he was in jail," she said. “He couldn’t comprehend his surroundings."
Ellet said she has been keeping a low profile due to her grief, but she believes it is important for her to speak up about the changes she thinks Hyde would have wanted to see in the justice system and in society at large.
“I believe he would want to have a professional such as a mental health provider to be with people who have a mental illness when they are in crisis, to speak on behalf of them," she said.
Ellet said Hyde would want all professionals to be issued handbooks so they could learn more about the signs and symptoms of mental illness and how to handle somebody who is having a psychotic episode. “Howard would want more housing available (for mentally ill people)," she said. “Howard found it horrific to know that people with mental illness are living in shelters and on the streets. It really upset him. He wished he could have done something but he didn’t know what to do."
Ellet said Hyde also would have wanted more research into the development of psychiatric drugs.
“Not all medications agree with each particular person," she said. “There are so many sideeffects."
More mental health funding and clubhouses, support groups and associations in support of the mentally ill would also be on Hyde’s list, Ellet said.
“I believe there is a large amount of fundraising that can make miracles happen to help (prevent) people with mental challenges from living on the streets," she said.
“Mental illness is no different from somebody walking around with diabetes."
Some of Derrick’s recommendations concern stun guns — she said they should not be used on people in a state of agitation due to a psychological disturbance, and changes should be made in the training for how to use them.
The judge also recommended that crisis intervention training be provided to all correctional officers at the Dartmouth jail and that several aspects of training in general be improved for jail guards in the province and for front-line police officers and doctors.
Ellet said it is poignant that the report on Hyde’s death came out on the 30th anniversary of the murder of John Lennon.
Hyde, who sang and played the saxophone, was also an extraordinary musician, she said.
“Howard had the musical ability to play anything," she said. “He had the most astounding voice you can imagine."
Also like Lennon, Hyde despised war. “He just wanted peace in the world," Ellet said.
N.S. to factor Hyde inquiry into mental health plan