Min­istry ex­plor­ing estab­lish­ment of men­tal health ad­vo­cate

The Prince George Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - Stu­art NEATBY Ci­ti­zen staff sneatby@pgc­i­t­i­zen.ca

Re­spond­ing to con­cerns raised by a Prince Ge­orge men­tal health group, a B.C. min­is­ter said the prov­ince is ex­plor­ing es­tab­lish­ing an in­de­pen­dent ad­vo­cate for men­tal health and ad­dic­tions.

Judy Darcy, B.C.’s min­is­ter of men­tal health and ad­dic­tions, said in a state­ment sent to The Ci­ti­zen that her min­istry is in the process of cre­at­ing a men­tal health and ad­dic­tions strat­egy.

As part of this process, Darcy said that the min­istry would “con­tinue to fur­ther ex­plore the role of in­de­pen­dent ad­vo­cates, con­sid­er­ing all of the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by the Prince Ge­orge Men­tal Health and Con­sumer Coun­cil, along with other com­mu­nity part­ners.” The Prince Ge­orge Men­tal Health and Con­sumer Coun­cil, an or­ga­ni­za­tion com­posed of in­di­vid­u­als who have ex­pe­ri­enced men­tal health ser­vices, has been ad­vo­cat­ing for the cre­ation of the of­fice of a men­tal health ad­vo­cate for more than two years.

“I un­der­stand hav­ing a men­tal health ad­vo­cate in place is crit­i­cally im­por­tant for some of our com­mu­nity part­ners,” Darcy said in the state­ment.

PGMHCC be­lieves that an in­de­pen­dent men­tal health ad­vo­cate would be sim­i­lar to that of the Of­fice Rep­re­sen­ta­tive of Chil­dren and Youth, which acts as both a watch­dog and an ad­vo­cate for all gov­ern­ment-funded chil­dren and youth ser­vices in B.C.

Sandy Ram­say, a mem­ber of PGMHCC, said that many in­di­vid­u­als liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness of­ten have dif­fi­culty nav­i­gat­ing the var­i­ous health and ser­vice agen­cies lo­cally. Most such or­ga­ni­za­tions also re­ceive fund­ing from North­ern Health, which makes ad­vo­cacy dif­fi­cult.

“A men­tal health ad­vo­cate has a dif­fer­ent view of what’s hap­pen­ing from what the ser­vice provider is able to do,” Ram­say said.

Ram­say said that hav­ing an in­de­pen­dent ad­vo­cate would be par­tic­u­larly help­ful to in­di­vid­u­als who have been in­vol­un­tar­ily de­tained un­der the Men­tal Health Act. This act al­lows physi­cians to or­der in­di­vid­u­als to be ad­mit­ted to men­tal health fa­cil­i­ties if they be­lieve the in­di­vid­ual re­quires su­per­vised treat­ment. Un­der the MHA, those who feel they have been im­prop­erly de­tained can have their case re­viewed.

How­ever, le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion dur­ing these re­views is not al­ways avail­able.

“Peo­ple are go­ing into re­view pan­els with­out le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” Ram­say said.

The Com­mu­nity Le­gal As­sis­tance So­ci­ety of B.C. re­leased a re­port, en­ti­tled Op­er­at­ing in Dark­ness: BC’s Men­tal Health Act De­ten­tion Sys­tem, in late Novem­ber which rec­om­mended the estab­lish­ment of an in­de­pen­dent men­tal health ad­vo­cate. The re­port found that de­ten­tions un­der the MHA in­creased from 11,937 to 20,008 per year since 2007 and that many in­di­vid­u­als who have been de­tained have had their civil rights vi­o­lated.

“It’s very hard for an in­di­vid­ual who has ex­pe­ri­enced men­tal health de­ten­tion to launch a law­suit. They’re of­ten try­ing to re­cover and cope with what hap­pened to them,” said Laura John­ston, who wrote the re­port.

John­ston said the B.C. gov­ern­ment had pre­vi­ously es­tab­lished an in­de­pen­dent men­tal health ad­vo­cate in 1998, fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Riverview hos­pi­tal in Co­quit­lam. The of­fice lasted for three years be­fore be­ing dis­man­tled in 2001 by the Gor­don Camp­bell gov­ern­ment. The of­fice re­ceived more than 3,000 calls in the three years of its ten­ure and pub­lished yearly re­ports calling for im­prove­ments of men­tal health ser­vices in B.C.

John­ston said in­for­ma­tion about MHA de­ten­tions is of­ten not sys­tem­at­i­cally recorded by health au­thor­i­ties in B.C.

“One of the things that re­ally alarmed me through that re­search is con­stantly get­ting the an­swers ‘we don’t know, we don’t know, we don’t know,’” John­ston said.

Mau­reen Davis, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Men­tal Health As­so­ci­a­tion’s Prince Ge­orge Branch, said her of­fice has re­ceived in­quiries from in­di­vid­u­als or fam­ily mem­bers seek­ing le­gal as­sis­tance with MHA re­views. The or­ga­ni­za­tion has pro­vided re­fer­rals but has of­ten been un­able to as­sist these in­di­vid­u­als due to a lack of re­sources.

“Most of the time peo­ple end up hav­ing to rep­re­sent them­selves,” Davis said.

Davis said hav­ing a level of over­sight of men­tal health de­ten­tions would be a wel­come change in B.C. She said that le­gal aid rep­re­sen­ta­tives for these pan­els are of­ten few and far be­tween in the North.

“Find­ing some­one is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble,” she said.

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