A silent scourge

The tattoo

There is a question mark tattooed on the arms of Patrick’s siblings, Johannah and Blaise Convey. It’s also tattooed on the bodies of his best friends, his cousins, and soon his parents will be getting the same tattoo.

It’s in memory of Patrick’s tattoo he got at the age of 18.

“He didn’t know what to get,”says Johannah. “So he said just put a question mark on there.”

Johannah and Blaise remember their brother as adventurous and open to everything. But what they remember most was his loving nature for people, whether they be a stranger or a friend.

“And then here was this guy who felt completely alone,” says Johannah. “How does that happen?”

Like most families who lose someone to suicide, the Convey family is having trouble accepting Patrick’s death, or the changes that overcame him in the four years after he suffered an accidental drug overdose at a party when he was 21.

He panicked and thought he was dying, so his sister called an ambulance to take him to the hospital.

(King's investigative photo)

The experience deeply traumatized him and left him with severe anxiety that never faded away.

Experts say that suicide and mental illness are inextricably linked, that mental disorders are the biggest risk factor for self-inflicted harm. While the family doubts Patrick himself was genuinely mentally ill, Patrick sought treatment for his anxiety in the last few months of his life. This led to visits to the Nova Scotia Hospital and the Abbie Lane mental health wing at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. The family says Patrick saw many different doctors, but none of them could agree on what was wrong. As a result, Patrick was constantly on different medications. Some months he was fine; others he fell back into a hole.

“He was told every day what he was,” says his brother Blaise. “If you’ve been told something enough you’re going to fear that it’s true.”

One prominent Halifax expert echoes the family’s concerns about the way system stigmatizes those with mental conditions.

“Why is it that if you have a mental disorder you are shunted off a different pathway?” asked Dr. Stan Kutcher, a professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University and expert on adolescent mental health and suicide. “The brain happens to be connected to the body and individuals who provide health care should be just as good at providing health care for your panic disorder as they are for your diabetes or arthritis.”

(Dr. Kutcher is running for the Liberals in Halifax riding; this interview was completed before the election campaign began).

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