Three Strikes and You’re Out, and By Out, I Mean Dead

This story was plastered above the fold in yesterday’s print edition of the Toronto Star:

Gleb Alfyorov thought he was going to a hospital for help.

So did the judge who ordered a 30-day psychiatric evaluation of the Pickering teen.

“I want you to be with a team of specialists — nurses and doctors who can meet with you and talk with you about things,” Judge Susan MacLean told the troubled 16-year-old who had been convicted of breaking his older sister’s nose.

That night, a police cruiser dropped Gleb at Syl Apps Youth Centre in Oakville, a jail which was not set up to assess or treat him.

Gleb was strip-searched, interviewed and directed to cell 12. A stunning series of miscommunications kept him from receiving help.

Twenty-nine days later, he hanged himself from a ceiling grate in his cell with his black shoelaces. It was five days after his 17th birthday.

[But go read the the whole thing.]

Essentially, the story tells of a sixteen-year-old boy who had some serious (and undiagnosed) mental health issues and a history of substance abuse. Instead of being properly diagnosed and treated, various experts and professionals handled Gleb Alfyorov like an animal until he finally committed suicide in despair. It is ugly and depressing reading, especially if you’re a health care professional, because it appears, first, that no one bothered to look at Gleb Alfyorov’s chart, and second, no one could be bothered to act as his advocate. It’s pretty clear no one had actual responsibility for Gleb in any meaningful way.

In truth, he had three strikes against him anyway.

He had a  mental illness, and we all know how people with mental illness are valued, even by health care professionals.

He was a drug abuser, and we all know about the perception — and some of us believe it — that drug abusers are  scum and get what they deserve.

He had a criminal record, and criminals are no better than animals. Right?

In short, he didn’t have a chance. To health care professionals, people like Gleb Alfyorov don’t matter much. We might officially protest it ain’t so, but we know it’s true. They aren’t important, and they are a dime a dozen. They’re difficult, hard-ass cases. They don’t have the appeal of breast cancer patients or sick babies. Who really gives a shit, right?

The testimony at the coroner’s inquest will no doubt involve a lot of hand-wringing and complacency at the same time; some will and blame the victim and others will blame circumstance and everyone will avoid anything that looks like the acceptance of responsibility. Witnesses will say “the system” killed him, when in fact “the system” is actually composed of individuals whose action or inaction contributed to Gleb’s death.

When completed, the inquest will recommend some systemic changes which will hopefully improve a deeply awful system. But in the end, I think none of that will matter, until we get it through our thick skulls that young men like Gleb aren’t disposable, but human beings intrinsically worthy of being treated with respect and dignity. And no coroner’s inquest can change that attitude.


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  1. #1 by Rachael S on Saturday 16 July 2011 - 1130


  2. #2 by Lynda M O on Saturday 16 July 2011 - 1247

    Appalling what we do to our fellow humans.

    Powerful conclusion.

  3. #3 by evilscientist on Saturday 16 July 2011 - 1326

    I teach in a drug treatment program for teens. Many of our clients (if not most) have had run ins with the law in the past, and some have some significant mental health issues. In the 10+ years working with the program I’ve only ever encountered one of the kids that would be classified as truly “bad”, and by that I mean sociopathic. The rest of the kids, no matter what charges they’ve had, or how bad their drug abuse would at worst be classed as kids who’ve made some unhealthy choices in their lives, but are worth working with to try to get them to make more healthy choices in their future.

    Sometimes we succeed, sometimes our success is measured in the client is more likely to think they have a problem and may look at treatment again in the future. No matter the outcome, it is worth the effort (both my colleagues and I) and society to try. No child is disposable.

  4. #4 by Elise on Saturday 16 July 2011 - 1412

    “the system” is actually composed of individuals whose action or inaction contributed to Gleb’s death.

    It its a tragedy in this case and while I do agree with the reasons that no one took the time to properly assess Gleb, I also see this lack of connection with cancer patients, with babies and their mothers. No one really takes responsibility for anyone anymore. This systemic thinking is bad for us all.

  5. #5 by The Nerdy Nurse on Sunday 17 July 2011 - 0125

    It’s terrible to read things like this. Terrible.

    Mental illness might as well be leprosy in healthcare. There is a great taboo in trying to express understand and compassion for patients with these challenges. It is hard to give care when a patient is playing mind games they are not in control.

    We must take a closer look at our perceptions of mental health and provide the care that individuals need, especially in terms of their phycicatric care… even if you aren’t a psych nurse.

    And I do hope heads role of this. He was still a kid, and that place was NOT appropriate.

  6. #6 by hemp on Tuesday 19 July 2011 - 2109

    Her request will be considered Tuesday to be followed by closing submissions..Gleb s case is disturbingly similar to that of Ashley Smith the mentally ill 19-year-old who strangled herself inside a Kitchener prison cell less than a year earlier and whose death is the focus of a separate coroner s inquest..Among the many questions jurors may grapple with is whether Gleb should have been sent to Syl Apps which failed to complete a court-ordered psychiatric assessment and how that affected his ultimate fate. The coroner will be tasked with following up on any recommendations the jury issues..National Post.

  7. #7 by Anonymous on Thursday 28 July 2011 - 1132

    He didn’t stand a chance his despair hurts my heart. It’s so sad!

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