'People are dying. Something needs to be done'

Grieving mother calls for improvements to addictions services and mental health system

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on November 13, 2013

Dianne Young of Charlottetown holds a photo of her and son Lennon Waterman during a happier period in her son's life.

©Guardian photo by Jim Day

Dianne Young is certain her son is dead.

She believes her 29-year-old boy, Lennon Waterman, chose to end his life by leaping into the cold North River Friday night, leading to a search for a body that days later has still not been found.

“Oh, there is no question that it was my son,’’ says Young. “I really have no hope that he will be found alive.’’

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The tragic end, the Charlottetown mother believes, was a long time in the making.

Young says her son lived the past decade in utter turmoil in harm-filled years fueled by drugs and also, mom is quite sure, mired in mental illness.

“My son has been tormented and tortured by drug addiction and mental illness for nine years,’’ says Young, who visited The Guardian Tuesday to talk about her son.

“So I have been grieving the loss of my son for nine years. When I would see my son, I wouldn’t really see him. I would see glimpses of him sometimes.’’

Young says Waterman never received either the right help, or enough of it, from addiction treatment and mental health services.

He dried out a few times at the Provincial Addictions Treatment Facility in Mount Herbert, but each of those reprieves was short lived, she said.

He spent a few stints in jail for petty theft (stealing a pair of gloves), public disturbance and breach of probation. He emerged from prison each time, notes mom, more damaged than when he entered.

“He never had any period of time when he was straight...his mind was always so tormented with his mental illness,’’ says Young. “Over the past two years now, it really went downhill fast. He was homeless. He had no place to live...he was living under a cardboard box last winter.’’

Young didn’t know how to come to her son’s aid. She urged him to seek help. He would not.

She tried tough love. That didn’t work.

Her husband, Waterman’s stepfather, took an even sterner approach, drawing firm boundaries like barring him from the family home unless he cleaned up. Again, no success.

“I was tormented,’’ says Young. “Everybody in the family was tormented. Addiction is a family disease. Everyone’s affected.’’

Her marriage nearly succombed to the failed attempts to address Waterman’s addiction problem.

“He would call me and say, ‘Mom, my heart is broken’ and I would say ‘Lennon, would you just get some help. Go see a doctor.’ And he wouldn’t.’’

Young is not fixated on holding people to account for her son’s death.

First, she is quick to extend appreciation to all involved in the search for Waterman, which was sparked when police received a call shortly after 10 p.m. Friday of a suspicious male on the North River causeway that resulted in the RCMP finding some clothing, leading them to suspect a person had gone into the river.

Young would later identify the clothing as belonging to Waterman.

She also is eager to thank all the people who have extended kind words.

“There have been so many people praying for us, I know,’’ she says.

Above all, though, Young has come forward to talk about her son’s tragic life in hopes of saving others.

She does not want the troubled life of Waterman, once a handsome young man holding on to grandiose dreams like one day becoming an actor in New York, to have ended without some positive outcome down the road.

“I hope that he didn’t die in vain,’’ she says. “I hope that by him dying maybe some other people can be saved by this (story).’’

More must be done, Young insists, to help Islanders in the throes of addiction and mental illness — a damaging reality the provincial government appears to have grasped having recently announced plans to spend $1.2 million in new initiatives to deal with prescription drug addiction in the province and in appointing a specialist to come up with a long-term strategy to improve mental health and addictions services.

Young is adamant in calling for an improved system.

“I’m not going to blame addictions services or the mental health community or anything like that for my son’s death,’’ she says.

“But I want to say this: that most of the people that work in those areas have their hands tied and probably feel much like I do about how things are not working.

“Take a look, open your eyes,’’ she stresses. “People are dying. Something needs to be done.’’