Warning: This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing.
Kennedy was just four years old when her parents first noticed signs of intense anxiety.
The little girl from Windsor, Ont. had sudden physical outbursts in kindergarten, forcing teachers to clear the classroom. As she grew older, Kennedy began openly talking about her suicidal thoughts and fears that Satan was trying to harm her. By the age of seven, she was prescribed medication to help manage her anxiety.
Then, last summer, her mother Robin Ferguson got a terrifying phone call at work.
“I got a call from my son who was in his bedroom, terrified, leaning up against the door calling me crying that his sister was coming after him with scissors,” Ferguson told CTV News.
The mother immediately dialed 911 and rushed home. When she arrived, she found her daughter crawling on the floor, growling and grunting.
“Literally acting like a wild animal. The police simply were like, ‘But she’s seven. We don’t know what to do. We don’t have a protocol.’”
Ferguson said her daughter’s situation is just one example of what happens when children don’t get the mental health resources they desperately need. She said she’s been forced to wait hours in hospital after her daughter threatened to kill herself.
The biggest scare came earlier this year. Ferguson said she asked her daughter to brush her teeth, but she repeatedly refused. Ferguson said she asked her more forcefully, and Kennedy ran into the bathroom and locked the door behind her.
“We thought she was just going to brush her teeth and then we heard her saying, ‘What can I find to kill myself with? I need to kill myself, there’s gotta be something in here I can kill myself with.’”
The little girl eventually found a lighter in the bathroom used for candles. She tried lighting her hair on fire, but before she could, her father entered the bathroom and brought her into another room.
“She said she was going to set her hair on fire because she knows that that would be the quickest way,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said the health-care system has repeatedly failed her daughter. Ferguson said she can’t afford to pay for the specialized care that her daughter desperately needs and, with school out for the summer, she’s running out of options for how to care for her.
“There’s no government assistance to help,” she said. “There’s no respite, there’s no nothing.”
Ferguson’s call for help comes one day after a Nova Scotia mother said she was forced to wait 12 hours in a Halifax emergency room for medical aid for her son, who suffers from anxiety and attempted to jump out of the car as she drove him to hospital.
Stories like these are all too common for Sheryl Boswell, executive director of Youth Mental Health Canada. She says Canada is in the midst of a national crisis and that families of suicidal children aren’t getting the help they so desperately need.
In many cases, children suffering from a mental health crisis end up in emergency rooms only to be forced to wait months to years for therapy, Boswell said.
“We need to start doing the right thing for young people and families in Canada. We cannot turn our backs on people. It's unethical,” she said
Provinces have increased funding for mental health resources, but Bowell said it still isn’t enough to confront the crisis.
“There is increased funding from all governments into mental health and it hasn’t changed outcomes,” she said. “It is still denying people access to emergency health care for life-threatening challenges.”
For Ferguson, her biggest fear is that her daughter will suffer from a mental health crisis one day and isn’t given the help she so desperately needs.
“My daughter tried to set herself on fire and I was waiting eight months to see someone with help her with that. And in the meantime we’ve been through so many more I-want-to-dies,” she said.
“It needs to be recognized as an actual problem, and I know my daughter is not the only one.”