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Earlier discussion

Mental health and the law

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There was a very serious attempt to standardize mental health acts a number of years ago. It was called the Uniform Mental Health Act and was produced after extensive discussion between the provinces. Interestingly it moved toward the Ontario model then with narrow dangerous committal criteria. Subsequently most provinces have moved away from the dangerous model to a deterioration and harm model. While there are certain advantages in standardization it can also be restrictive and retard innovations eg. Community treatment orders.

Victoria Huntley from Vancouver: I am the daughter of a mentally ill father who has recently been involved in the system but has a severe paranoia of mainstream medical system among other problems, so remains largely under-diagnosed and un-treated. He appears unwilling or unable to accept his situation, and is currently fighting an eviction notice. He is penniless and in a crisis situation.

My main concern is that I would like to protect my sister, who is mentally disabled, from his 'care'. After over a year, I was finally able to get her into a group home and out of his immediate daily care. My next goal is to remove his decision-making powers completely in favour of myself and our mother. He is not a guardian officially but rather shares this with our mother.

The main difficulties are that my father is arriving at my sister's care home at random and staff are having trouble with his behavioral outbursts. His demands (Eg to give my sister alternative meds) at bizarre times of the day, are upsetting them and causing problems for the other residents, plus I worry about the alternative health pills he is giving her. How can I remove responsibility?

What steps do we need to take, or is it enough that his medical 'condition' has been documented? Would a doctor's note suffice or do I need to pursue a legal route? The PGO won't touch this situation to date, FYI. I am debating a 3rd try, as I would prefer to have a public guardian /trustee rather than my father. What can I do too minimize any costs? Thanks in advance, Victoria

John Gray: I am sorry that I do not have the knowledge to be helpful here. I would think the PGO, the mental health unit that works with your father, the group home staff, or the family support group with you sister may have some ideas?

Greg Stroll from montreal: One thing a lot of people don't consider when they link mental illness to the law is how the law reacts as well. In my own experiences I was once denied service entirely by a police officer simply because I had a mental illness. I came first thing in the morning so there would be nobody in line and all I had asked for was simply if a certain action another entity had taken towards me was illegal or not, if so what was the name of the crime. She even knew I had no intention of filing charges, and it was just to file a complaint letter correctly. She listened to me until the point I said I was schizophrenic and said she couldn't help me. I did persist for a while but once she started litanizing for me that 'you understand you're mentally ill right?' I figured it was time to leave.

My point is that for all the talk about mentally ill people who get lost in the justice system, the root and frontliners of it which are the police officers aren't even trained to be de-stigmatized. If the justice system wants to handle mentally ill criminals differently and yet retain them under their own jurisdiction would you not agree that from the ground up they need to be educated on the subject?

John Gray: Yes the education of police officers on mental health issues is very important. Police get involved with people who may have a mental illness under the Criminal Law but they are often the first responders in a mental health crisis.

They have authority under all Mental Health Acts in Canada to apprehend a person who has an apparent mental illness and meets other criteria (usually danger) and can take them to a physician for an examination. This is can be very helpful in diverting a person from the criminal justice system, but to do this well officers need training.

Across Canada, the Canadian Chiefs of Police mental health committee, there is a great deal of interest in this training and many police forces have formal training programs. The Canadian National Committtee for Police/Mental Health Liason is a good source of information. A number have developed teams with mental health professionals to help people.

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