Frederick Dawe, 82, poses for a photograph at his home in Powell River, B.C., on Tuesday December 19, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Families speak out in defence of B.C.’s Mental Health Act

Many are speaking out against demands that the B.C. government tighten the province’s Mental Health Act

Frederick Dawe remembers the night about 30 years ago that his six-foot-eight son experienced a psychotic break in the emergency room of a Vancouver-area hospital.

“He just lost it. He picked up a couch, swung it around the room, cleaned the room out,” Dawe said. “It took four security guards to hold him down while they gave him an injection.”

The month-long hospital stay that followed was one of several where Peter Dawe was kept against his will. Both he and his father say those treatments saved his life.

“You’re not of sound mind,” said Peter, now 50. ”When you’re in that state you’re not thinking properly.”

Dawe and his son are among those speaking out against demands that the British Columbia government overhaul the Mental Health Act to make it harder to involuntarily detain someone for treatment.

The Community Legal Assistance Society, a B.C.-based legal advocacy group, published a report last month describing the province’s mental health laws as some of the most regressive in Canada.

The report documents a spike in involuntary detentions over the past decade, from about 11,900 to more than 20,000, and chronicles reports of patients being put in solitary confinement, getting strapped to beds or having their clothes removed as a form of punishment.

Laura Johnston, who authored the report, said she wants an independent commission to look into the act and recommend changes, including better training for health-care providers and the creation of an independent mental health advocate.

But some advocates and family members are defending the mental health policies, saying involuntary admissions are crucial to getting loved ones help during a crisis.

Nancy Ford, head of the North Shore Schizophrenia Society, said the only way she could get treatment for a relative with schizoaffective disorder was through an involuntary committal.

“He didn’t know who people were. He heard voices. He was paranoid,” she said. “He had all of the symptoms of schizophrenia.”

B.C. allows patients to be admitted involuntarily for mental health reasons in order to prevent “substantial mental or physical deterioration,” or for their protection and the protection of others.

Involuntary patients may request a panel hearing to review their status and ask to be released, though Johnston said B.C. is unique because it has no regular detention review hearings.

Cheryl Zipper teaches a course through the North Shore Schizophrenia Society for family members who have a loved one diagnosed with a mental illness. She said the Mental Health Act is essential for getting people the help they may not realize they need and taking away those powers could mean the death of a loved one.

“That’s what’s at stake, because suicide is always looking at us in the face,” said Zipper, who has a relative diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. “If a person is psychotic, they’re really not in command of any kind of rational thinking.”

Families benefit from knowing involuntary committal is available as a last resort, Zipper said.

“If you’re a family member, you may not need to use it, but you know that it’s there,” she said.

“That in itself, I think, is reassuring,” she added. “It gives you hope, and hope is important. Hope is really important for families, because this is really awful.”

Jean Fong, a spokeswoman for the B.C. Schizophrenia Society, said prompt medical treatment is crucial, whether voluntary or not, because repeated instances of untreated psychosis can cause permanent damage and lower the likelihood of recovery.

“When people with severe mental illness are involuntarily committed, it is because they are unable to make rational decisions on their own behalf,” Fong said in an email.

Geordon Omand, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

West Kootenay Fishing Report: Cooler weather brings in big bull trout on Kootenay Lake

“Our latest cold snap at the end of the month has triggered some good fishing” - Kerry Reed.

EDITORIAL: Considering the promises

During the election campaign examine how the various parties will fulfill their promises to voters

South Okanagan-West Kootenay candidates talk climate change and environment at recent forum

Forum on Tuesday grilled candidates about plan to bring about low carbon emission economy

Rossland introduces new traffic bylaw

Right now it costs more money to write a ticket than the city gets from the fine, says a councillor

Vaping harder to detect in Kootenay high school

Devices becoming more discrete, easier for students to disguise

ELECTION 2019: Have Justin Trudeau’s Liberals really cut middle-class taxes?

Conservative Andrew Scheer vows to cut bottom bracket, NDP’s Jagmeet Singh targets wealth tax

Fewer people prescribed opioids in B.C., but other provinces lack data: doctors

Patients who began taking opioids were prescribed smaller doses for shorter duration

Electric cello, stolen from vehicle in Williams Lake, returned to U.S. owner

Rita Rice of Texas said she and her husband had given up hope of ever seeing it again

Drop, cover and hold on: Thousands of British Columbians to take part in earthquake drill

This year’s drill comes as scientists announce discovery of ‘stormquakes,’ an earthquake and hurricane

Woman, 24, faces life-altering injuries after being dragged 4 blocks by vehicle in Vancouver

A gofundme account says the woman will have to undergo multiple complex surgeries

Frustration and pride in Canada after a year of legal pot

It’s one year into Canada’s experiment in legal marijuana, and hundreds of legal pot shops have opened

West Kelowna business facing charges after six bears killed over littering

A West Kelowna business has been charged for leaving garbage around Lake Okanagan Resort

Fatal overdoses down by 33% in B.C., but carfentanil deaths continue to spike

Carfentanil, an illicit drug more powerful than fentanyl, causing more deaths than ever

Most Read