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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Saanich police officers were one group of dozens that submitted dance clips to the Greater Victoria Festival Society, to help create the Dance Across Victoria video montage. (Youtube/Screenshot)
WATCH: Saanich police, Victoria mayor bust some moves in new Dance Across Victoria video

Montage features submitted dance clips from across Greater Victoria

Saanich’s Malia Brodie competed in the Vancouver qualifiers for the 2020 National Championships. (Photo by BC Sport Karate Snaps)
PHOTOS: Saanich teen awarded $1,800 Karate Canada bursary to pursue officiant certification

Malia Brodie, 18, has black belt, nearly 15 years experience in karate

Former Oak Bay High Grade 12 student Brandon Kip plays the $100,000 Steinway piano in the Dave Dunnet Theatre. (Black Press Media file photo)
Oak Bay High Alumni Association passes torch to new president

The association has given back more than $70,000 in its 16 years

After more than a year, open forums will resume at a Saanich committee of the whole meeting on April 19 with up to five residents having the chance to speak for three minutes each about any district-related matter. (Black Press Media file photo)
Public input resumes at Saanich council following lengthy suspension due to pandemic

Up to five residents can present by phone for up to three minutes starting April 19

Sooke pickleball enthusiasts are rallying for funds to resurface the local outdoor courts. The group will come before council on April 13, where they will request for $7,000 towards the resurfacing project. (Photo from Sooke Pickleball Facebook page)
Sooke pickleball enthusiasts push for outdoor court resurfacing

Group to come before Sooke council April 13, asking for $7,000 grant

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Rules against RV living hard on Island residents caught in housing crunch

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

(Black Press file photo).
UPDATED: Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read