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Suicide attempt raises alarm bells

More intensive counselling needed: source

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/7/2010 (3662 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A suicide attempt at the Manitoba Youth Centre that's left a 15-year-old girl in critical condition is raising alarm bells about mental health services for kids in custody.

"We're not the place for these kids," said the source, who said staff at the MYC are "really, really shaken up" after the girl's attempted suicide.

The source said the girls at the jail come to staff as "used and abused," and treated as if they're disposable. Boys aren't immune either. "I just think (jail is) really damaging a lot of these kids further," said the source.

"Most of these kids should not be in a jail... it's just the wrong place."

MYC staff knew the girl was grappling with depression and had previously tried to kill herself. Those same staff are the ones forced to scramble to deal with many of the centre's population who suffer from mental health issues. The source said girls at the MYC -- who usually number from about 40 to 45 -- especially need attention in a hospital setting, not a locked institution. The last suicide death at the facility was in December 1975.

Manitoba Justice has launched a review into the circumstances surrounding the girl's suicide attempt. An official confirmed she was by herself in her own room in one of the jail's 15-room cottages when the incident occurred.

After a staff member found the girl at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, she was rushed to hospital and the facility went into lockdown for hours.

The girl had attempted suicide four to six times before she reportedly harmed herself Tuesday, a source told the Free Press.

The girl had been assessed as a medium risk for suicide and wasn't allowed to have sheets in her room for fear she'd harm herself, said another source. She used an article of clothing to hang herself.

The source said the suicide attempt points to larger issues about the need for more intensive counselling for kids who present a risk.

The source said nurses at the facility are stretched too thin by the many high-needs teens, adding there has to be a dedicated mental health facility to properly treat them.

"They're just overwhelmed... they're all stretched to the limit," said the source. "We're not the place for these kids."

The facility should look at having rooms with better visibility, said the source, so staff can supervise youths more effectively.

The source also recommended a higher number of observation rooms -- specialized rooms where staff monitor youth on surveillance.

There are only four observation rooms right now.

No Manitoba Justice officials would speak to the Free Press Thursday about mental health programs for youths in custody.

Corey La Berge, a Legal Aid Manitoba lawyer who represents young offenders, said MYC staff are excellent and pointed out youth at the centre receive treatment from nurses and psychologists. However, he said, the "criminal legal system" is a "dumping ground" for people who've fallen through the cracks of the mental health system.

He said he dealt with a teenage female client this week who was at the Manitoba Youth Centre but should have been at a hospital.

Bonnie Kocsis, the province's acting Children's Advocate, said her office isn't involved in looking at the tragedy at this point but provincial officials will be.

"I'm sure that everybody out there is going to be asking questions," she said.

The girl was in the care of a Child and Family Services agency and had a troubled family history that included the death of her sister last year. A source who knows the girl well described her life as an "injustice," which included struggles with addictions and repeated trauma.

A hospital official said Thursday afternoon the girl remained in critical condition.



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