Arts & Life
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This article was published 12/12/2015 (1743 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Terry Pratt was a gardener. She gave things life.
When her two children were young, she spent hours in the dirt, transforming their North End yard into a gated secret garden, a floral paradise.
Maybe she loved giving things life, because she saw so much of the opposite. As Manitoba’s first female autopsy assistant, Pratt tended to the bodies of those lost through violence or accident. It was heavy work, but she was good at it.
She was there in the wake of Winnipeg’s most tragic cases, and handled them with grace. She had the crackling dry humour common to the profession, and believed that everyone ought to have a little chocolate in their day; sometimes, she assembled platters of sweets for police officers assigned to wait while pathologists did their solemn work. That was Terry Pratt though, her daughter says, always concerned about how the people around her were doing. "She made everything warm and beautiful," Hannah Rose Pratt says. "Which is why she was the last person that you would think for something like this to happen." The last time that Hannah Rose spoke to her mother was through a text message that Friday, in March 2014. Home sick from work, she texted her mother that she loved her. The text from her mom came back: "I love you too so much Hanny!!!" Five hours later, Hannah Rose’s phone rang, and everything stopped. Her mother was dead at age 55, by suicide. It was the second time she had attempted; the first had been six months before, in the aftermath of a painful divorce. The time in between, Hannah Rose and her family sewed together a patchwork of therapy and medication, trying to carry her through. Those first days were a blur. Police officers flooded Terry’s funeral with bouquets and regaled her children with stories of how she brought light to difficult days. But in the months that followed, Hannah Rose began trying to piece together how everything came apart, trying to understand how the mental-health care her family had so fervently sought hadn’t been enough to save her mom.
"We talk about mental health," Hannah Rose says. "But we don’t have the knowledge, or the actual resources… there are so many stories like mine. It’s OK to say it’s not good enough. We should be rallying and trying to change things."
It’s happening. This week, Bonnie Bricker met with provincial Health Minister Sharon Blady to talk about revamping Manitoba’s mental-health supports. Bricker’s son, Reid, vanished in October after being released from the Health Sciences Centre alone at 3:20 a.m., after his third suicide attempt in 10 days. His family believes he’s gone.
Now, Bricker is calling for reforms that include making families part of the hospital discharge plan for vulnerable people, and improving education for families and patients when they are released. That resonates with Hannah Rose, who in February wrote that she felt "abandoned by the system" following her mother’s first suicide attempt.
When Terry attempted suicide in October 2013, she was released after eight hours in the St. Boniface Hospital ER into her daughter’s care. With little instruction and no literature on available supports, her family cobbled together a plan from disparate group of public, private and non-profit organizations — "Google is your friend," her daughter notes drily — but they ached for more consistent and integrated care.
For example: from Terry’s employee assistance program, they found an occasional counsellor. Her work benefits paid for a few sessions with a private therapist. Once a month, she met with a psych nurse or a psychiatrist to follow up on medication, and the family filled the gaps with a smattering of disconnected programs. Her children were "terrified" to leave her alone, but when she was not requiring immediate hospitalization, could find nowhere else for her to go.
"We were trying to deal with it in pieces, because that was the only thing out there," Pratt says. "I don’t want to blame anybody. I firmly believe it’s the person who decides; there has to be an inherent ‘I’m going to choose to live or not.’ We gave her a lot of support that we had access to. But all of these things we had to find on our own."
People tumble through the gaps in Manitoba’s system. When they fall, they land on the strained front lines: on families, first responders and on emergency room beds. The gaps are costly, in money and time and life — and then, sometimes, the gaps widen and there is nowhere left to land.
Could a more cohesive mental-health support network have saved Terry Pratt? There’s no way to be sure, her daughter knows. Her family at least had the resources to hunt down and advocate for her mother’s care. But what happens for those families or people struggling with suicide that don’t, and are still left to navigate public mentalhealth programs alone?
"There have to be more supports and more instruction, and obviously more programs (for families)," Hannah Rose says. "People need to see the benefits to supporting these programs. There are better outcomes for everybody in the end. Better hospital care, so beds aren’t taken up. All things people care about."
Today, she is determined that the lessons of her mother’s life will not go unlearned. She plans to launch a pathology scholarship, in honour of her mother’s work; but that is just the start of an advocacy journey she shares with Bonnie Bricker, one she hopes ends with stronger mental health support.
"I know I’m going to do something with this," Hannah Rose says. "I just don’t know what yet. I need to figure out what’s the greatest need. Is it raising money for more beds? Or is that just a drop in the bucket? I’m trying to figure out what that good thing is yet."
If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of self-harm, please call the Manitoba Suicide Line at 1-877-4357170, or visit reasontolive.ca. Counsellors there want to help you. You are not alone.
Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.
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