Tricia Lamarche has likened herself to a dog with a bone when it came to advocating and fighting to help find mental health services in Simcoe County for her youngest child.
Sarah (not her real name) was 14 and in Grade 9 when she began struggling with some mental health issues, explained Lamarche, noting that escalated even more following some trauma the following year. That ultimately culminated in her daughter’s first attempt at taking her own life.
That was the beginning of the Barrie mom’s struggle to find and access local mental health services for youth.
“We were on the children’s mental health ward. … The social worker came in and told me I was going to be my daughter’s biggest advocate and I was floored by that because I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know anything about the mental health system,” she told BarrieToday. “It was like you’re pushed into the pool and you better learn to swim.”
Lamarche said her daughter attempted suicide a number of times during her teenage years, and each time they’d end up back at the hospital, where she said she would be handed the same pamphlet and given the same information for programs her daughter was not old enough for.
“I struggled a lot with trying to fight for her and keep her alive with a system that, to me, didn’t support families,” she said.
During one of those visits, she was given another folder with information on residential care.
“I followed the link and it didn't work. Again, you face a dead wall and by then I am angry because I am trying to save her life and it’s just roadblock after roadblock," Lamarche said. "There didn’t seem to be any consistency in Simcoe County or agencies talking to agencies.”
After struggling to find the proper help for her daughter for years, Lamarche was eventually put in touch with New Path Youth and Family Services, the organization Lamarche says, without a doubt, saved her daughter’s life.
“Trust me when I say as a parent you need to fight and be on it all the time to try to secure help. New Path really was a lifeline for us and for her,” she said.
Sarah went into residential care for eight months the first time and did very well, getting caught up at school and undergoing individualized therapy.
“We were really on a good road," Lamarche said. "She returned to life and, as she said, they planted the flower — and about six months later she set it on fire.”
Luckily, this time Lamarche knew where to turn for help and immediately reached back out to New Path, who stepped up and supported Sarah until her 18th birthday.
Her daughter was also given the tools to deal with the other “stuff” that’s inevitably going to happen in life and the family, as a whole, was also provided with counselling.
“As a parent, you have a tremendous amount of guilt and shame when your child is going through mental health issues," Lamarche said. "As a family, often there is all this focus on this child who is going through what it is they’re going through, but there can be other family members who feel a little bit ignored.
"(So) it was good counselling for us to talk about what happened, what led up to it and it really allowed us to learn how to better communicate with each other, which has also helped down the road," she added. "It was a safe place for everyone to air out feelings and talk things out.”
Lamarche admits she has a bit of a stubborn streak, which served her well when trying to help her child.
“I will bang on doors. I will keep pushing and fighting and I had wonderful support from my family, but I can’t help but wonder about all the kids that would fall through the cracks whose parents couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to keep pushing," she said. "That always makes me very sad, because it’s not an easy system to navigate.
“I just wish in Simcoe County that each agency knew what the other was doing and worked more together," Lamarche added. "If (families) can get the right information, I think it will save parents a lot of grief and children a lot of struggle if they’re able to access help faster.”
Looking back, Lamarche said she knew Sarah was struggling, but not to the extent that she was.
“You know they’re unhappy and having trouble at school, so you go to the school and try to rectify some of the stuff that’s happening. I didn’t realize the extent of her pain," she said. "To be honest, I didn’t even think (suicide) was a possibility. It wouldn’t have even crossed my mind until, of course, it happens. And then you’re fully aware."
Her advice to fellow parents is to keep an eye out for possible warning signs, like becoming withdrawn or not wanting to go to school.
“Really take to heart that sometimes the issues they’re dealing with are not just growing pains," Lamarche said. "My only other advice is keep fighting, keep knocking on doors, keep calling until you can get your child help.”
Lamarche knows without a doubt that Sarah would not be alive today if not for the help she received from New Path.
“She’s on a good path and the fact that she even has a path really has a lot to do with the treatment and services she received a New Path," Lamarche said. "They genuinely care about the people they deal with.
"I know that when people can access the right help, it does make a difference,” she added. “She’s in college, has a lovely boyfriend and is very happy. Life isn’t perfect, and it isn’t for anyone, but I don’t lay awake at night wondering if she’s harming herself.
"I wouldn't say it’s a happily-ever-after, but it’s pretty close.”