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'The mad and the bad'

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Ms. Grunsky had already spent months in the provincially run Fort Saskatchewan Correctional Centre. There, she took courses in anger management and relapse prevention. She learned how to design a résumé and picked up some job skills. Through trial and error, she also found an antidepressant that worked (and to which she remains faithful today).

She expected to get further help when she moved to the federal Edmonton Institution for Women, she says, but instead encountered scant programming and long delays. She had to request to see a psychiatrist and was stuck waiting on what inmates call the "idiot list." She says a common practice was to give prescriptions for methadone or a cocktail of other medications derisively dubbed "bug juice."

"They did that a lot in there with the women to control us, I think," she said. "… Many of the girls out there are on such high doses that they're just passing out at the table. It's absolutely ridiculous."

For the past two years, Ms. Grunsky has been working with Edmonton-based Clean Scene Network for Youth, an outreach program that talks to kids, some as young as 10, about the dangers of drug abuse. She considers it payback for what she did to her family and her community.

Her children have welcomed her back into their lives. Her 84-year-old mother lives with her. Her husband never came back. She is feeling "normal" again but is resigned to her life sentence with mental illness.

"I'm afraid to get off my medication. … I don't want to do drugs again and I don't want that lifestyle back," she said. "And that might happen; that's in the back of my mind."

THE RISK OF VIOLENCE

In Calgary last month, a young, educated father, suffering from delusions, killed his wife and children.

In Toronto, also last month, a pair of twentysomething reservists were sentenced for stomping to death a mentally ill, homeless man while he was sleeping on his favourite park bench.

These two cases highlight the complex issue of violence and mental illness. When people with mental illness commit violence, it is most often against family members. But they are far more likely to fall victim to violence themselves.

Some recent statistics:

  •  People with mental illness are 11 times more likely to be victims of violence than the general population, according to a U.S. study.
  • The same study found that rates of abuse were highest among people with the most severe illnesses, since they are most likely to be poor and lacking support systems.
  •  About 10 per cent of homicides in Canada are committed by people with a mental illness, according to E. Fuller Torrey, a U.S. psychiatrist who recently authored a book on the subject called The Insanity Offense.
  •  The vast majority of those cases involved people not receiving treatment, and who often had substance-abuse addiction, Dr. Torrey says. "If you've got someone with schizophrenia living next door and they're on medication," he said, "you've got no worries."

Erin Anderssen

BY THE NUMBERS

8 - Percentage of Canadian prisoners diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to one study, compared with 1 per cent of adults in society at large

57 - Percentage of incarcerated men, aged 18 to 44, who were found in an Edmonton study to have some sort of anti-social personality disorder, compared with an estimated 9 per cent in society at large

19 Percentage of incarcerated women suffering from major depression, compared with 8.1 per cent in society at large

29 Percentage of female prisoners with an anti-social personality disorder, compared with 1.2 per cent of Canadian women in general

Sources: Canadian Institute for Health Information; Correctional Service of Canada

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