He struggled for more than a decade to get his son the help he needed, then his son went missing and a week ago was found dead — now a Kindersley man is speaking out, saying the government needs to improve mental health offerings in the province.
Laurie Thompson’s son, Stephen Thompson, went missing the afternoon of Aug. 3 and was found dead five days later.
That Friday wasn’t the beginning of the troubles for Thompson though. The family was dealing with problems for more than a decade before.
Laurie said Stephen had mental health issues and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“Stephen was a very nice guy, quiet,” said Laurie. “He was having a lot of troubles over the past few years since his brother died … He just was never the same.”
Laurie said Stephen was living in Calgary when his schizophrenia became apparent, then he came back to where his parents lived near Kindersley.
Over the years, Stephen’s illness got worse. Laurie said he and his wife tried to get help for him numerous times but Laurie said the system is flawed and broken.
Laurie described trying to get Stephen in to see a psychiatrist — the first one initially suggested doing an interview over the phone, but Stephen refused. Eventually, they got an in-person appointment and drove up to Saskatoon.
“I think it was six minutes (Stephen) was in with that guy, and it was just in a room full of people that was waiting their turn, and he just write out a prescription and away you go.”
When Stephen was in a crisis, Laurie said they would go to the Dubé Centre for Mental Health in Saskatoon, but at minimum, it would be a 12-hour wait for him to be admitted, and the last time it took 19 hours.
Laurie said the centre would never keep him in long enough.
In between stays in psych wards there could be incidents with Stephen – Laurie said Stephen had gotten violent before – but Laurie said he didn’t like calling the police because they didn’t do anything to help
Laurie remembers once when Stephen borrowed his truck and was gone for two weeks. The only reason he knew where Stephen was, was because police would call.
“I said ‘Well he needs intervention’. And they said ‘Well, we’re not going to do that because he hasn’t done anything wrong.’ So I got a phone call about a week later from P.A. police and they explained what was going on … He was out running naked through the fields. And I said ‘Well he needs intervention, like, he needs to go to the psych ward’. And they said ‘Well he hasn’t done anything wrong, I just told him to go home’.”
‘The funding is not there to help those people.’
If there had been more supports more readily available in Saskatchewan, Laurie believes his son would still be alive.
“The funding is not there to help those people, they’re just getting pushed aside and they fall through the cracks.”
The waiting list to see a clinical psychiatrist in Saskatchewan can be up to two years according to Rebecca Rackow, with the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“Part of the issue, I believe, is that the help that is available is in the formal system and is very expensive,” explained Rackow. “So it’s very difficult to have enough staffing and services that way for the number of people who require it.”
In the 2018-19 budget, the Saskatchewan government allocated five per cent of money for health to mental health services. The province said it has future plans to increase that number to seven per cent.
There are 14 spaces for psychiatrists in the province which need to be filled, according to the Ministry of Health.
‘He looked like he just laid down went to sleep.’
This last time Stephen went missing was a Friday. Laurie said he was out at a family reunion and had left Stephen at home. He came back every day to check on his son, but he wasn’t there.
Laurie said he hoped Stephen had just taken off for a while, as he had before, and that he would come back.
On Monday night, Laurie went out to look for him. On Tuesday morning, he enlisted a friend to help him search the coulee near their home. On Tuesday night, Laurie made the call to police.
Wednesday was when police brought dogs to the house and looked for Stephen for hours.
“They were just about to call off the search and the dog got a scent, and they found him, down there in the taller grass … We were expecting, you know, he was just sort of camped out down there. But they came back and said he was gone and he looked like he just laid down went to sleep,” said Laurie.
Laurie said that was the beginning of planning another family funeral – one son, his wife, and now another son.
In telling his story, Laurie hopes he can bring some attention to the need for services and funding in the province.
“It’s too late for Stephen, but it’s not too late for others. So if I can help by getting his story out, I want to do that.”
Someone in the middle of a mental health crisis in Saskatchewan can call Mobile Crisis Services which have different helplines and centres across the province.