Former patients of the Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) unit at the Royal Jubilee Hospital are asking for more thorough and compassionate care. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Former patients of the Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) unit at the Royal Jubilee Hospital are asking for more thorough and compassionate care. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

‘Belittled and dismissed:’ Former patients of Victoria Psychiatric Emergency Services call for change

Culture of mental health stigma persists in the health care system, says MLA Adam Olsen

Warning: This article includes topics of mental distress and suicide

In one of the darkest moments of her life, Ella Hale, 18, voluntarily admitted herself to psychiatric services at a Victoria hospital.

She’s one of dozens of former patients of Royal Jubilee Hospital’s Psychiatric Emergency Services (PES) unit who shared stories online of being patronized, belittled and discharged while still in crisis.

Defined as a specialized care area within the hospital’s emergency department, PES is listed as an intensive assessment and crisis intervention for patients with psychiatric disorders. The unit has four short-stay inpatient rooms.

READ ALSO: Your guide to mental health resources in Greater Victoria

Hale, who has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder, was admitted to hospital in April 2020 after attempting suicide. That time, she went to a medical floor. But a few months later – in June 2020 – she was in crisis again and went to PES voluntarily.

She stayed overnight on the unit and saw a psychiatrist the following morning.

“She was very quick to dismiss my problems as teenage problems,” Hale said. “She said I was young and things would be better when I was 25.”

Hale felt dismissed, ignored and gas-lit.

“I have a really hard time validating myself as it is, and so to be invalidated by a mental health professional makes it worse,” she said. “It really nailed in the idea that in order to get help, I have to do something physical to myself.”

Ella Hale (left) and Emma Epp (right) started a Facebook group to document their experiences at the Psychiatric Emergency Services unit at the Royal Jubilee Hospital. In less than a month, the group has garnered more than 500 members. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

Hale’s story isn’t singular. She met Emma Epp, 19, at Camosun College, where they both take the Community, Family and Child Studies program.

Epp went to PES for the first time about two years ago and has been admitted involuntarily several times since. But she said it didn’t matter how she got there – the treatment was the same.

“They said there was nothing they could do for me, even though I was saying that my outside supports weren’t helping and that I’m incredibly suicidal. So they let me go home.”

Epp has been struggling with her mental health for eight years but said she still isn’t taken seriously at PES.

“If somebody came to the doctor with stage one cancer, you wouldn’t say ‘come back when you have stage four.’ Because that’s what they’re doing when you’re expressing suicidal ideation but haven’t actually done anything.”

Epp and Hale started a Facebook group on Feb. 27, where they shared their experiences. The group, titled ‘PES: A Pathetic Excuse for Support,’ had more than 513 members and 89 posts by March 15. They’re both saddened and shocked by the response.

Facebook group allegations aimed at PES staff range from shaming and victim-blaming to emotional abuse and dismissal from the unit while patients were still on heavy doses of medication or in the midst of ongoing mental health crises.

“It’s so hard to reach out and it takes a lot of courage to be like, ‘I need help.’ And then you get met with nothing,” Hale said.

In 2014, the B.C. Supreme Court found Island Health and two employees negligent in the case of then 38-year-old Joseph Briante, who was admitted to PES in October 2007. He was interviewed by a psychiatric nurse and doctor and discharged two hours later. Six days after Briante was discharged, he attempted suicide. He survived but suffered irreparable brain damage.

Justice Keith Bracken ruled the nurse and doctor who assessed Briante were negligent in their failure to obtain thorough patient history prior to discharging him, but that they couldn’t be blamed for his suicide attempt.

The judge also criticized the PES intake process.

“The PES model in place puts emphasis on efficiency, particularly cost efficiency in processing patients,” Bracken wrote. “The model maximizes the time the emergency room physician has for her normal duties, but in many ways minimizes the time for investigation, analysis and assessment of a patient.”

Damon Jubb, a Colwood father of three, sought mental health care at Victoria General Hospital on Jan. 22. He said his anxiety had spiked that week, and the Vancouver Island Crisis Line, while helpful, wasn’t enough.

READ ALSO: ‘It’s heartbreaking:’ Calls for increased mental health support following death of Langford teen

“It was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in recent memory – having to walk into the ER and ask for help,” he said. Jubb left with some resources, but a few days later went voluntarily to Royal Jubilee Hospital. It was in PES where he said he was reprimanded for falling asleep on a gurney.

“(Security) were on me. And I was up against the wall. Why did this happen? I went in there for care.”

Jubb can’t remember the details of his time there. He doesn’t know if he made threats or acted violently, but he does know that he was confused and frightened.

Damon Jubb shared his experience at the Psychiatric Emergency Services unit in case there were others who had similar experiences. Unbeknownst to him, a group of more than 500 people had formed online. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)

He said the next day he was discharged with instructions for a follow-up appointment. He was in a daze when he left the unit, wandering around the parking area until his wife found him.

On March 10, Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, presented a series of questions to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions in the B.C. Legislature. He asked what was being done to address the “systemic bias and discrimination” stigmatizing people seeking help during a mental health crisis.

“If you present with a mental illness, you get one type of treatment, and if you present with a physical ailment, you get a different kind of treatment,” he said in an interview with Black Press Media.

“I believe the survivors of these stories and I think it’s important that we do more than acknowledge them,” he said. “There’s this intense stigmatization. It’s a culture that’s evolved over the years. And it’s a culture that this government has inherited.”

It’s time for the province to root out and get rid of that culture, Olsen said.

“People are belittled, they’re judged, they’re undermined and they’re sent packing and left to their own devices,” he said. “There comes a time in which the answers need to come pretty clearly to the public about what’s actually going on there.”

In a statement, Island Health said it was aware of concerns from patients about the care they had received at PES. Island Health met with Hale and Epp on March 16 to discuss the issues.

“We take these concerns seriously as we strive to provide the very best care we can,” the health authority said. “People have a right and an expectation to be treated with respect and dignity when they are accessing our services.”

Island Health said trauma-informed training is offered to staff through a wide range of options and models. Anyone accessing mental health and substance use services is screened using the universal IS PATH WARM method (a suicide assessment mnemonic) which considers ideation, substance misuse, purposelessness, anxiety, trapped hopelessness, withdrawal, anger, recklessness and mood changes. Island Health added more thorough risk assessments are completed in clinical interviews with psychiatrists and nurses also use the Tool for Assessment of Suicide Risk (TASR).

“Safety plans are utilized in conjunction with assessment and are developed collaboratively with patients,” the health authority stated.

“Not all patients choose to complete this, but it is usually a method we use to remind the patient what they can do when experiencing a re-emergence of suicidal thinking after discharge.”

Changes have also been made at PES throughout the years, including renovations in 2017 to create a less clinical environment and to improve safety for patients and staff.

If you or someone you know is struggling, call the provincial suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-suicide (1-800-784-2433), or visit crisislines.bc.ca to find local mental health and crisis resources.

Black Press Media has also prepared mental health and overdose prevention resource guides filled with information specific to Greater Victoria, you can find them under e-editions at vicnews.com.

READ ALSO: Mental Health: Stigma leads to a life on the streets


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

Greater Victoriamental healthRoyal Jubilee Hospital

Just Posted

Colwood council is looking at potential summer weekend closures to traffic of a section of Ocean Boulevard at Esquimalt Lagoon, to allow for more of a park-like setting during summer events such as the popular Eats & Beats event, shown here in 2018. (Black Press Media file photo)
Mayor lobbying for summer weekend closures of beachfront Colwood roadway

Rob Martin to bring motion forward to June 28 council meeting

Victoria police continue to look for missing man Tyrone Goertzen and are once again asking for the public’s assistance in locating him. (Photo courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police put out another call for help finding missing man

Tyrone Goertzen, 33, was first reported missing June 4

Rachel Rivera (left) and Claire Ouchi are a dynamic art duo known as the WKNDRS. The two painted the new road mural at Uptown. (Megan Atkins-Baker/News Staff)
Artistic mural at Uptown brings creativity, fun to summer shoppers in Saanich

Road installation the largest of its kind in Greater Victoria

Kathy and Doug LaFortune stand next to the new welcome pole now gracing the front entrance of KELSET Elementary School in North Saanich. LaFortune completed the piece after suffering a stroke with the help of his wife and son Bear. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
KELSET school in North Saanich unveils welcome pole on National Indigenous Peoples Day

Carver Doug LaFortune completed pole with the help of his son, wife after suffering a stroke

By protesting uninvited in First Nations’ territories, conservationists are acting in a neocolonial or paternalistic manner, says Huu-ay-aht Chief Robert Dennis. Photo by Heather Thomson
A closer look: do Vancouver Island First Nations support the war in the woods?

First Nations/environmentalist old growth alliance uneasy, if it exists at all

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Chilliwack secondary school’s principal is apologizing after a quote equating graduation with the end of slavery in the U.S. was included in the 2020-2021 yearbook. (Screenshot from submitted SnapChat)
B.C. student’s yearbook quote equates grad to end of slavery; principal cites editing error

Black former student ‘disgusted’ as CSS principal apologizes for what is called an editing error

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross. (Photo by Peter Versteege)
BC Liberal leadership candidate condemns ‘senseless violence’ of Okanagan church fires

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross says reconciliation isn’t about revenge for past tragedies

A coroner’s inquest will be taking place at the Capitol Theatre in Port Alberni for the next week. (ELENA RARDON / ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS)
Teen B.C. mom who died following police custody recalled as ‘friend to many’

Police sent Jocelyn George to hospital after intoxication had gone ‘beyond the realm’ of normal detox

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

Penticton Indian Band Chief Greg Gabriel speaks to the Sacred Hearts Catholic Church burning down early Monday morning, June 21, 2021. (Monique Tamminga Western News)
Penticton band chief condemns suspicious burning of 2 Catholic churches

Both Catholic church fires are deemed suspicious, says RCMP

COVID-19 daily cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day moving average to June 17, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infections drop to 90 on Sunday, 45 Monday

Pandemic spread dwindles as 77% of adults receive vaccine

Emergency vehicles are parked outside of the Wintergreen Apartments on Fourth Avenue. (SUSAN QUINN / Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni RCMP investigate stabbing on Fourth Avenue

Two men were found with ‘significant’ injuries near Wintergreen Apartments

A blood drive in support of 1-year-old Rielynn Gormley of Agassiz is scheduled for Monday, June 28 at Tzeachten First Nation Community Hall in Chilliwack. Rielynn lives with type 3 von Willebrand disease, which makes it difficult for her to stop bleeding. (Screenshot/Canadian Blood Services)
Upcoming blood drive in honour of Fraser Valley toddler with rare blood condition

The Gormley family has organized a blood drive in Chilliwack on June 28

Most Read