A West Kelowna mother is at her wit’s end after she was once again forced to call police on her mentally ill son earlier this month, which led to the bomb squad being called in.
Chris, who's asked to not use her last name to keep her son's identity private, called police on the evening of March 13, after her son was burning sage in his bedroom. She said she's been forced to call the police on her son upwards of 25 times over the past year, when he slips into episodes of psychosis.
The following day, the RCMP said “potentially volatile materials” were discovered in the home, and the Lower Mainland-based Explosive Disposal Unit was called in.
Chris says the whole ordeal wasn't necessary, and she resents the way police framed the situation in their statement to the public.
Her son, who's 25 years old, was diagnosed with high-functioning autism at a young age, but she says his illness has progressed to schizophrenia in recent years. He regularly experiences episodes of psychosis, and police are called to their home often, both by Chris and by neighbours. They've attended more than five times this year alone.
“The scariest thing I have to do is call the police because of what I have seen, it's been unbelievable,” Chris said. “I never know what is going to happen, to me or to him.”
She says on the night in question, police found her son's collection of ground up match stick tips that he had been using to make something similar to sparklers.
“Because of the sickness, they do strange things,” she said. “I assured [the police officers] it was not gunpowder, and [my son] does not have a gun licence nor the ability to buy bullets. He does collect empty bullet shells from the shooting range up around town and the back bush, but they were adamant the shotgun shells had been emptied into these containers and he was trying to make a bomb.”
Chris' son was taken to the intensive care psychiatric unit at Kelowna General Hospital, while Chris was forced to leave her home until the next day, when the Explosive Disposal Unit arrived. She says she was later told by police that there was nothing found in her home that could have been used to make a bomb.
She says two weeks prior, a neighbour called the RCMP and the police kicked in her door with their guns drawn. But she notes that all of the police responses have been for mental health crises, and her son has never been arrested, criminally charged or acted violently.
“This is a poor kid suffering at the hands of our mental health services,” Chris said. “He has never hurt anybody.”
She says she feels helpless and has watched the repeating cycle of her son being carried off to the psych ward for years.
“There's no help for me, there's no counselling for me, there's no support for me, there's none for him,” Chris said.
“There needs to be support for families, families like me that are willing to support and be there for their children that have had these diagnoses, who aren't drug users. That we are given the support too that we need to educate ourselves to help to keep them safe and off the street.”
She says the extent of the assistance her son has been offered is phone calls with a psychiatrist, but only if he wants to.
She adds that she's been told by social workers, RCMP officers and hospital staff that she needs to kick her son out of the house and onto the street for him to be able to get further resources and treatment.
“We don't throw our animals on the streets, that's animal cruelty. We don't put our elderly on the street, but we're throwing our mentally ill children to the wolves, where they can become addicted, they can self medicate,” Chris said. “This is not a solution, we're destroying families and people.
“I have them say 'What do you want from us?' Help, support, understanding, compassion ... I've had them sit in front of me and [my son] and say 'Your mom needs to make a choice, it's the street, or she can have you at home ... we're going to release him and you either take him or he's going to the street.'”
Interior Health did not directly answer Castanet's inquiry about whether they encourage mentally ill people to live on the street.
“We consider family to be part of a person’s circle of care, providing that the client has given consent, and the objective is for client, family and care providers work closely together on the plan of care,” said Karen Omelchuk, clinical operations director for Interior Health's Mental Health & Substance Use, in a written statement.
“There may be situations where other housing options might be explored for the health and well-being of both the family and the client.”
Omelchuk added that all patients who are admitted to inpatient psychiatry are “discharged with a care plan and they are also linked to appropriate community [Mental Health & Substance Use] services.”
“Discharge planning, regardless of the unit at Kelowna General Hospital, always considers where a person will be discharged to – for example, where they will live. The plan and approach for every person who accesses our services are built around the needs of the person with a mental health and/or substance use concern and many factors go into this plan.”
Chris says when he's not experiencing psychosis, her son has the mental and emotional capacity of child. She says he wouldn't be able to safely take care of himself on his own.
“When he's not in psychosis, he's like a five-year-old child. 'Mommy, I need my little blankey, I need you, I need my little monkey.' It's heartbreaking,” she said.
“If I had money I know I could have bought [my son] better healthcare. That's the truth, it's so sad. But because my option is Interior Health, they turn a sick person who needs help into a 'bomb maker,' and that is not OK. He's not that person, he's a child who needs help.”