A silent scourge

The entrance to the Abbie Lane wing at the QEII hospital. (King's investigative photo)

But the system never seemed to find the answer for Patrick.

About a week before his death, his sister visited him at the hospital in Halifax.

“He was very different. Usually he would be joking and laughing and carrying on,” says Johannah. But this time the two just laid peacefully together and Patrick stroked her hair.

“It was a side of him I never got to know. It was like all of the sudden he was more of a big brother than a friend. And he just hugged me.”

“They shut off all the lights in the hospital and said visiting hours are over and he just threw a blanket over my head and said, ‘Just stay.’”

That was the last time Johannah saw her brother. She left for a weeklong vacation in Mexico. Her flight back got in late at night and she had expected Patrick to be at the airport with their mother, but he was home, already in bed.

The next morning, Patrick’s mother dropped him off for a counselling appointment downtown, on her way to work. He later texted his mother to say he was walking home. It was the last time she’d hear from him.

“It upsets me because I was supposed to call him,” says Johannah. “I’m not sure if he knew I was home.”

Police officers as mental health workers

Police are often the first on the scene for suicides and suicide attempts, making them de-facto first responders for the mental health system.

A lot of times when people are in distress we are their first call, they just don’t know where else to turn,” says Supt. Donald MacLean, outgoing east division commander with the Halifax Regional Police.

MacLean says officers receive training in crisis intervention and the force has negotiators who can be called in when situations become severe.

A King’s Journalism analysis of close to 650,000 calls to Halifax police shows that metro-wide, officers respond to an average of about three calls a day that go out over the radio as suicide attempts. A third of those turn out to be something else once an officer has been to the scene, but the stats still show about two attempted suicide calls a day in the Halifax Regional Police response area.

“Sometimes the first guy that arrives on scene is the one that’s able to convince the person to step back,” says Supt. Brenda Zima, who replaces MacLean this month.

“It’s a lot of patience, a lot of listening, at the end of the day just trying to do your best,” says MacLean, who notes that not all suicide calls involve someone imminently in danger.

“Most…(are)…more along the lines of the person calls up and says, you know, ‘I’m thinking about taking some pills or my girlfriend’s depressed and she’s talking about doing it and most times those are resolved by way of getting to the hospital.”

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