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

Victoria police Chief Const. Del Manak appreciates the efforts of residents and business owners who took part in the VicPD community survey. The questionnaire saw a combined nearly 1,000 respondents from Victoria and Esquimalt. (Black Press Media file photo)
VicPD survey says: overall satisfaction positive, accountability needs work

Respondents feel safe during day, not so much at night; more police presence would help

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is looking for this man, who they say stole a charity box. (Facebook/Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Crime Stoppers looking for man who stole charity box from Saanich grocery store

Anyone with information asked to call Crime Stoppers

A crowd gathers at Mount Newton Cross Road and Highway 17 on Oct. 23. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Highway reopens after rally supporting Mi’kmaq fishing rights in Nova Scotia

Central Saanich demonstration interrupts Friday afternoon traffic

Sooke man Rik Downer spent two weeks in the Royal Jubilee Hospital after contracting flesh-eating bacteria. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Sooke man’s bumped knee leads to fight for life

Man unknowingly contracts case of rare flesh-eating disease

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Advance polls are open from Oct. 15 to 21 with election day on Oct. 24. (Black Press Media file photo)
100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

Green party Leader Sonia Furstenau arrives to announce her party’s election platform in New Westminster, B.C., on October 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. Green party says it’s raised nearly $835,000 in 38 days

NDP Leader John Horgan is holding his final virtual campaign event

U.S. border officers at the Peace Arch crossing arrested two men on California warrants this week. (File photo)
Ottawa predicts system delays, backlogs unless court extends life of refugee pact

Canada and the United States recognize each other as safe places to seek protection

BC Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson,  BC NDP leader John Horgan and BC Green leader Sonia Furstenau. (File)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Climate change and sustainability promises from the parties

Snap election has led to a short campaign; here’s the lowdown on the platforms

Most Read