By Marvin Ross
I recently came across an excellent assessment of the very bad mental health system in Ontario that prefers to have people receive services in the forensic stream rather than before they get to that point. The assessment was not published but was obtained under Freedom of Information.
That led me to write this on Huffington Post – Ontario Has Failed to Provide Adequate Resources for Mental Illness.
After that appeared, the Hamilton Spectator did a feature on a young man named Ross Biancale with the head I’ve already written his obituary: Mom struggles to save son from himself. This sad but true recounting of what it takes to get someone service in Ontario illustrated all the points that I made in my Huffington Post blog. Below is my explanation for this mess.
The reason that Ross Biancale and thousands like him are falling through the cracks of the mental health system (the Spectator, January 23) is easily explained and easily fixed. They have not been fixed because the Liberal government has no interest in doing so.
Justice Richard D Schneider ran the Toronto Mental Health Court for years and then completed a report for the Department of Justice called The Mentally Ill: How They Became Enmeshed in the Criminal Justice System and How We Might Get Them Out in 2015. That report only saw light of day because of a CBC Freedom of Information request.
Justice Schneider points out that the main fault is the Ontario Mental Health Act and the conditions required for an involuntary committal to hospital. Under the current legislation, someone who is exhibiting all the signs of illness, listening to the voices of Martians in his head while denying he is ill, cannot be hospitalized without consent. Neither the police nor the Justice of the Peace will help hospitalize that person if they do not believe there is “clear evidence that he is dangerous to himself or others”. And, even if he is admitted, he is “discharged before he is stable” and “his condition deteriorates”.
Justice Schneider said “if the individual is not seen as dangerous to himself or others he is free to roam the streets ‘madder than a hatter’” And, in many cases, the person will come into conflict with the law and wind up in the vastly more expensive forensic psychiatric system.
The 1967 Ontario Mental Health Act allowed for someone to be admitted to hospital involuntarily if they were suffering from a mental disorder severe enough to warrant treatment in hospital for their own or others safety and they could be held for one month. That was changed in 1978 thanks to the civil libertarians to involuntary treatment only if the person had threatened or attempted to do harm to himself or others. The time held was lowered to 14 days.
Further, the 1967 Act considered that hospitalization meant treatment and people being held were treated. That changed in 1978 and someone could be held involuntarily but they did not have to agree to treatment.
Attempts have been made to change the Mental Health Act in Ontario and that was one of the recommendations of the 2008 all party Select Committee on Mental Health and Addictions. Recommendation 21 in that report states that the Ontario government should set up a task force within one year to “investigate and propose changes to Ontario’s mental health legislation and
policy pertaining to involuntary admission and treatment.”
That was 2008 and this is 2018 and the Liberal government still has not acted.
The other barrier to effective treatment mentioned in the Spectator article is our privacy legislation. If a person is over 18, they are an adult even if they live with their parents and are supported by them. Health care providers cannot talk to family without the permission of the ill person and, if they are paranoid, they may not grant permission.
The Select Committee also decided that the government should change the privacy legislation in recommendation 22. “The changes”, they said, “should ensure that family members and caregivers providing support to, and often living with, an individual with a mental illness or addiction have access to the personal health information necessary to provide that support, to prevent the further deterioration in the health of that individual, and to minimize the risk of serious psychological or physical harm.”
The 2013 Mental Health Commission of Canada report on caregivers made similar recommendations but, again, this is 2018 and Ontario has still done nothing.
These are issues that those of us with an interest in improved care for the mentally ill need to ask the candidates running in the upcoming provincial election.