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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vernon Fire Rescue Services responded to a vehicle that crashed into a Vernon home on 17th Street Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (City of Vernon photo)
Three hurt after mustang crashes into Vernon home

Three reported sustaining minor injuries in Sunday incident

A heavy police presence was spotted in Lumby, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Facebook)
BREAKING: Police situation unfolding in Lumby

Police call for social media blackout in ongoing incident

(RCMP)
Six charged in 2018 Lumby drug lab bust

Bust one of province’s biggest, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, two men still loose

Multiple motor vehicle incidents stalled traffic between Kelowna and Vernon on Highway 97 after a morning snowfall Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Pam Wiebe Brunsdon - Facebook)
Highway 97 traffic stalled by collisions on slick roads

Vernon-Kelowna commute slowed due to multiple accidents after morning snowfall

x
Morning Start: Bubble wrap was originally intended to be wallpaper

Your morning start for Monday, Oct. 26, 2020

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan celebrates projected majority NDP government, but no deadline for $1,000 deposit

Premier-elect says majority government will allow him to tackle issues across all of B.C.

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

West Kelowna RCMP investigate serious hit and run over the weekend

According to the police, a pedestrian continues to recover from serious injuries

École de l’Anse-au-sable. (Google Maps)
COVID-19 outbreak forces closure of Kelowna school

French-language school École de l’Anse-au-sable will remain closed until Nov. 4

NDP Leader John Horgan speaks with the owner of a barber shop while campaigning in Pitt Meadows, B.C., on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Campaigning was restricted by the coronavirus pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s B.C. majority came with historically low voter turnout

Barely half of eligible voters cast ballots in snap election

Game Cave’s owner, Trevor Sparreboom, is a self-described “hardcore video game collector.” (Jesse Day - Western News)
Gamers flock to new retro video game shop in Penticton

‘It’s like candy land for gamers,’ said one loyal customer

While Revelstoke has one of the oldest bear awareness societies in the province, the city has yet to implement a community wide bear-proof garbage system. (Submitted)
Saving bears: Revelstoke’s garbage dilemma

More than 400 bears have been killed in the city since 1986

A police pursuit ended with an arrest in Williams Lake on Highway 97 Sunday afternoon. (Facebook video screenshot)
Video catches police pursuit that ends with man kicked, punched in Williams Lake

A video of the arrest is getting widely shared on social media

Kelowna Secondary School. (SD23 photo)
One case of COVID-19 identified at Kelowna Secondary School

Interior Health will follow up directly with those who may have been exposed to the virus

Most Read