Pubdate: Sat, 28 Feb 2015
Source: Barrie Examiner (CN ON)
Copyright: 2015, Barrie Examiner
Author: Cheryl Browne
Page: A1


Trying to find help for a child who doesn't want it tough for parents

Tough love can hurt. Susan (not her real name) says she did everything
she could to get help for her young son who was suffering from mental
health problems and drug addiction.

None of it worked and the last time she saw her 17-year-old son was on
Dec. 7, when he left home to live in Youth Haven, a shelter in Barrie
for teens in crisis.

"You think hang in there, it's time for tough love and that he'll
appreciate it later," Susan said from her south-end Barrie home. "You
want him to hit bottom, but not a real bottom.

"I've learned he has to want to come to us, but he's so wrapped up in
getting high we don't matter."

Susan said she started to have concerns when he reached puberty, but
after raising two teenaged girls she told herself and her husband that
it was just different with a boy.

But when he started hitting himself on the head with a bat, she got

Only, she said, it's not so easy to become an advocate for a kid who
doesn't want help.

"As a parent, I have all of the responsibility and none of the
rights," Susan said.

Running through the litany of assistance she reached out for is
staggering. Susan said by the time they tried Kinark and the
Children's Aid Society he was 16 and considered too old.

When he said he no longer wanted to live he was taken to Royal
Victoria Regional Health Centre, but blood tests showed he was doing
drugs, so he was released. Twice. Stealing money from his father's
wallet and building his own bong in the basement was nearly the last

What finally tipped the scales from frustrated forgiveness to finality
was breaking into their home while they were in Florida and stealing
items to sell for drugs.

"When police picked him up two hours later, he'd already sold his
snowboard for drugs," she said.

When it's both a drug addiction and mental-health concern, Aleta
Armstrong, manager of youth programs at the Canadian Mental Health
Association's Simcoe Outreach Services (SOS) focuses on a
harm-reduction philosophy.

"One of the biggest problems is he has to want it (help) and quite
often, that's the biggest barrier," Armstrong said.

"The concept is, I come to you - a counsellor - and I'm doing heroin.
If you say 'stop doing drugs' that alienates the person so they don't
go to get help at all," she said.

Working with people with addictions means exchanging needles, giving
them a clean crack kit, or showing them how to inject needles into
veins that haven't already collapsed from overuse.

"It's all about setting up a relationship, so when they're fed up
they'll likely go to that person they already know for help," she said.

"It's so scary for parents," Armstrong added. "You think you're going
to lose them and sometimes you do. But we know, telling them to stop
(doing drugs) doesn't work. If it was that easy, we'd be out of
business." They're not out of work, far from it. The Ontario
government announced this week it is investing another $ 28 million in
mental-health and addiction services.

The money will be used to help increase access to supportive housing,
short-term crisis support beds, peer support and treatment programs.

Armstrong points to harm reduction work by Dr. Gabor Mate in
Vancouver's drug-riddled east end who offers healthy, clean injection
sites for drug users.

An online Ted Talk by Mate shows a kindly physician who understands
addictive behaviour; he once left a woman in labour to go buy a
classical music CD because at that point he said, he was addicted.

"I'd spent up to $8,000 a week on classical music CDs," Mate said
during the talk.

"Addiction is any behaviour that gives you temporary relief and
temporary pleasure, but in the long term causes harm and has some
negative consequences. And, you can't give it up despite those
negative consequences."

Mate points to addictions of shopping, the Internet, food, as well as
drugs and alcohol all filling a void, soothing some pain the person is
suffering from.

Nathan Sykes, executive director of Youth Haven, said he, too,
understands Susan's frustrations.

Only a judge can enforce a court order stating a person won't go to
jail if they go into a treatment centre.

"But they can still run away from the treatment centre. It's a
client-centred focus, on their needs and wants," Sykes said. "But the
pendulum has swung so far now, nobody can tell anyone to go anywhere.

"We've created a generation of people who aren't accountable to anyone
or anything," he added.

Sykes won't talk specifically about Susan's son, but with other Youth
Haven clients who don't follow the rules, they're pretty strict, he

"We can say to them, 'You've been here three months, you've been high
the whole time. We've only got 20 beds, so I hope you figure it out'.

"We sign a contract when they come in, so we can point to that and say
you haven't done anything we've asked you to do, that your parole
officer has asked you to do. You've got two weeks or you're out.

"For some, they get the message and they turn themselves around.
Others just laugh and walk away," he said. "Sometimes, we don't get to
see the 'a-ha' moment."
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