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Montreal doctor who lost brother to suicide calls for more mental health funding

Warning: This article contains mentions of suicide and suicidal ideation. Take care when reading.

A Montreal doctor is speaking out after she lost her brother to suicide in April. She says he tried to check himself into a psych ward, but never made it, after an extended wait in the emergency room.

Her story comes as mental health specialists raise alarms over barriers to entry in Quebec psychological care. Wait times have extended in recent years, and experts say more people are in need of help in a hangover from the pandemic.

"Dan was an incredibly intelligent, witty guy, super outgoing," said Dori Shiff, describing her brother, Dan Shiff. "He loved riding motorcycles. He was a pilot, loved to travel, and really had such a lust for life."

He also struggled with severe depression and addiction issues. She said that he was getting help from a psychiatrist, but it got so bad that he developed suicidal ideation.

She says he tried to check himself into a psych ward in Montreal in early April but that when he arrived at the ER, it was packed.

"Unfortunately, there were no beds available in the psych unit. He was in emergency for almost two weeks," Shiff told CTV News. "He was just feeling kind of hopeless and decided he wasn't feeling suicidal anymore.

"He decided to check himself out of the hospital," she said.

Three days later, she says, he died by suicide. He was 49.

"It's a very, very difficult time for the world," said psychologist Dr. Perry Adler. He says the pandemic has led to a fallout of mental health issues and that Quebec's health system is straining to keep up.

Data from the Fraser Institute shows Quebecers waited longer for treatment after seeing a specialist last year.

In 2021, the median wait time was about 12 weeks – that's among the fastest turnarounds in Canada, second only to BC. One year later, those times doubled. Patients had to wait a median of six months for treatment -- the longest wait in the country.

"It has been progressive governments, of all different types, that for decades, have underfunded mental health in this province," said Adler.

Shiff, herself a general practitioner, says the government should better fund mental health so there can be greater resources to help the people who need them.


One in 10 Canadians will have suicidal thoughts in their lifetime, federal data shows. Still, experts say many of them won't seek help.

"People worry that there's something inherently weak with them if they seek help," Adler continued. "In fact, the greatest amount of strength shows in being able to admit you're having trouble handling something on your own and seeking out the appropriate care."

"That's something to be proud of," he said.

Friends and family can help, too, and should be aware of common symptoms associated with suicidal ideation. Experts have identified signs like overall resignation. Patients may also stop eating, isolate themselves, or appear to seek closure with friends and relatives.

"Don't be afraid to ask the tough questions, and the tough questions are just honest questions," said psychotherapist Corrie Sirota, who specializes in grief and loss.

"There are stigmas around 'if I ask someone if they're considering suicide,' that 'I'm planting the seed in their head.' The answer is no, you are not."

Experts say people ought to stop thinking about suicide as a choice rather than a symptom of illness, like a tumour, paralysis, or a heart attack.

"At my brother's funeral, the rabbi was very open about saying that my brother died of a heart attack of the brain," said Shiff. "And if you look at it like that, it really opens your eyes to the fact that it really is a disease." 


If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some resources that are available.

Canada Suicide Prevention Helpline (1-833-456-4566)

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (1 800 463-2338)

Crisis Services Canada (1-833-456-4566 or text 45645)

Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)

If you need immediate assistance call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. Top Stories

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