Monday, December 20, 2010

One mom's fight to get her daughter help

And article posted on December 15th by MSN News:
By Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

Maureen Bilerman [pictured, left] knew something was wrong when her normally shy 13-year-old daughter suddenly became incorrigible, her thoughts and actions disjointed, sometimes destructive.

"It was a light-switch effect," recalls the mother of two, her even tone hinting she has told this story many times before. "She cut our leather chair ... and became really defiant in a way she never was. Her thinking became skewed, distorted. So we right away tried to get her help."

But Bilerman's sense of urgency soon turned to frustration and anger — raw emotions common among parents and critics across Canada who say provincial governments are failing mentally ill children and youth.

"We're the best-case scenario and she's still falling through the cracks," says Bilerman, a newly minted mental health activist who has struggled for the past three years to get her daughter Sarah the help she needs.

Unfortunately, her story is not that unusual.

In a typical Canadian class of 30 students, six will suffer from some form of mental illness, but only one will receive treatment.

"I don't care in what province you're talking about, what town or what service you're looking for, you will find a waiting list that is unacceptable," says pediatrician Diane Sacks, a mental health expert and a member of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

"There's just not enough services for kids."

For Bilerman, a writer with a background in marketing and broadcasting, that harsh reality became apparent in the spring of 2008, when Sarah overdosed on a bottle of Tylenol.

At the hospital, she was told all six beds at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Unit at the Moncton Hospital were full.

"They said, 'There's nothing we can do.' So they sent us home."

But Sarah was still having suicidal thoughts.

For the next six weeks, Bilerman monitored the girl 24 hours a day.

"She would be at the end of her rope, beyond suicidal, in a total state," Bilerman says, adding that the pair would head to the local emergency ward almost every week.

Again and again, they were told the Moncton facility was full and there was no other place for them to go.

The girl was prescribed drugs to stabilize her moods, but they didn't help much.

Bilerman didn't give up. She pushed hard, finally persuading health officials to admit her daughter to the unit, where a month-long stay produced a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic-depressive illness.

By that time, it had been almost a year since Sarah started showing signs of mental distress.

The diagnosis represented a big step forward for the Bilerman family, but it was only the beginning of another difficult journey.

Sarah, now 16, has since overdosed three more times.

Doctors have prescribed 20 different combinations of medication, none of which have stabilized her for very long.

The girl often stays out all night long, leaving her mother worried for her safety.

The constant stress has left its mark on the rest of Bilerman's family, which includes husband Shawn and 13-year-old daughter Rachel.

However, Bilerman's life took a sudden, positive turn four months ago when she heard a radio interview with the province's child and youth advocate, Bernard Richard.

The former cabinet minister, who is pushing for creation of a centre for children and youth with "complex needs," inspired Bilerman to take action.

She later learned that Richard has been advocating for a short-term treatment and co-ordination centre ever since he completed a disturbing report in 2008, titled Connecting the Dots.

"It was like the story of our life," says Bilerman, who recently founded DOTS NB, which stands for Development of Treatment Services for mental health in New Brunswick.

Richard's report includes graphic accounts of the challenges faced by children and youth with mental illness, suggesting too many of them are ending up in jail, penalized for behaviour that requires treatment, not punishment.

The proposed centre would offer a safe place for youth in crisis, intensive help for families dealing with mental illness and programs that would help troubled children and youth make the transition back into the community.

"The response has been amazing," Bilerman says, adding that she has been delivering speeches — up to five a day — to universities, churches, service groups and other groups.

Earlier this month, Bilerman led about 1,000 people in an unusual demonstration that grabbed the attention of the provincial government. At one point, the protesters joined hands, creating a kilometre-long human chain linking Fredericton's community mental health centre with the provincial legislature — a symbolic connecting of the dots.

Later, Bilerman presented Premier David Alward with hundreds of letters that tell stories similar to her own.

Bilerman wants Alward to approve Richard's proposal.

"It's integration of services across the province and closing some of the gaps that we know youth are falling through," she said after the rally.

Richard said the government has to act.

"When we don't provide the right responses to these kids, they end up in the justice system, in the prison system, over and over again costing millions of dollars over their lifetime," he said. "That's not to mention the hurt and damage they cause to their families, to themselves, and their neighbours and friends."

Alward said the province must do better.

"We have a responsibility, certainly as a people in New Brunswick, to move forward," he said.

The province's social development minister, Sue Stultz, says she is awaiting Richard's final report early next year before deciding how to proceed.

Photograph by David Smith, The Canadian Press

1 comment:

Ashley Smith said...

Mrs. Maureen Bilerman is an incredible woman. It is awesome the work she doing not only to advocate for her child but for others as well. The center would be a great asset for many families affected by mental health. I think with advocates like Mrs. Bilerman and others the center will be up and running soon.