Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mental Health Commission of Canada: Fall Newsletter Released

To view the Mental Health Commission of Canada's fall newsletter, click here (PDF).

Click on the image to expand it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Show support

A letter to the editor published in the September 25th edition of The Chronicle Herald:
Beginning Oct. 1, people who receive social assistance in Nova Scotia will see a $4 increase to their monthly income. This paltry increase is a long way from bringing social assistance rates up to the standard of the low-income cut-off level.

In its 2006 report, The National Council on Welfare reported that social assistance recipients in Nova Scotia have lost 20 per cent of their purchasing power since the late 1980s. The council notes that between 1989 and 2002, welfare incomes for employable, single persons with a disability, lone parents, and couples have seen their incomes decline in all provinces except Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and New Brunswick.

It is ironic that social assistance personal allowance rates are going up 1.96 per cent while Nova Scotia Power is looking to increase its rates by 9.4 per cent.

The Halifax Coalition Against Poverty will be holding a press conference at the Department of Community Services, 2131 Gottingen St., at 11 a.m. on Oct. 1 to demand that the provincial government raise social assistance rates to a livable level. Please come and show your support.

Sharon Murphy, Halifax

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Schizophrenia and social cognition

Part 1 (above)

Part 2 (above)

I must note that the presenter uses the term "a schizophrenic person". This is unfortunate as it takes away from an otherwise very good presentation.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Anne of Green Gables author suicide highlights mental illness

Posted today on

FREDERICTON– The revelation that beloved author Lucy Maud Montgomery [pictured], who wrote the Anne of Green Gables books, committed suicide in 1942 is being lauded for helping generate public discussion on mental health issues.

Montgomery's battle with mental illness was known for many years, but confirmation of her death by a drug overdose at the age of 67 only came this weekend in an article written by her granddaughter, Kate Macdonald Butler, in the Globe and Mail newspaper.

In the article, Macdonald Butler said it's hoped that writing about the issue will result in less secrecy and more awareness of the suffering of people with depression.

"I have come to feel very strongly that the stigma surrounding mental illness will be forever upon us as a society until we sweep away the misconception that depression happens to other people, not to us – and most certainly not to our heroes and icons," she wrote.
To read the entire article, click here.

Also see:

The heartbreaking truth about Anne's creator

Photo credit: Library and Archives Canada / C-011299

Monday, September 22, 2008

Statement by FCM President on Conservatives' $1.9 billion commitment to national housing and homelessness programs

From the September 17th edition of The Globe and Mail:
OTTAWA, Sept. 17 /CNW Telbec/ - The following is a statement from FCM [The Federation of Canadian Municipalities] President Jean Perrault, Mayor of Sherbrooke, on the Conservative Party's commitment of more than $1.9 billion in funding over five years in support of housing and homelessness programs throughout Canada.

"Today's campaign promise of more than $1.9 billion for housing and homelessness programs is a clear, positive and timely response to Canada's homelessness epidemic and the growing need for more affordable shelter. This announcement demonstrates strong leadership on an issue that touches Canadians literally where they live.

In January, 2008 FCM released its National Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness. At that time we called on the Government of Canada to lead a plan to eliminate homelessness within a decade, and, as a first step, extend vital federal housing programs beyond their planned expiry in March 2009 . When implemented, today's commitment would extend those programs and lay the ground work for a long-term strategy to confront homelessness.

We are further encouraged by the Conservative Party's commitment to work with other governments and communities "to implement concrete, long-term solutions to these challenging issues." This co-operative spirit will help ensure that today's funding commitments not only meet immediate needs, but contribute to lasting solutions.

Municipal governments fund, manage or support many of Canada's homeless shelters and much of the country's public housing stock. Federal funding support not only helps local governments perform these roles, but eases the burden placed on police, emergency and social services when housing and homelessness programs are underfunded.

Along with investments required in infrastructure, public transit, policing, and rural and northern sustainability, the growing need for affordable housing is an issue that is simply too costly, and too important, for local property taxpayers to fund alone. Not only is today's commitment a response to one of the most fundamental needs of the citizens we serve - it is a step toward stronger, more sustainable cities and communities.

We encourage all parties to contribute to the public discussion on housing and homelessness, and outline plans to invest in the places Canadians call home."

For further information:

Maurice Gingues, (613) 907-6395,

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Kids wait 1 year for mental health services: IWK CEO

A September 18th posting on
A backlog of cases has resulted in a year-long wait for some young people seeking mental health help, the head of the children's hospital says.

Anne McGuire
[pictured], CEO of the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, spoke at the annual meeting of the IWK on Wednesday.

She said she's not sure why there has been a surge of mental-health cases among children and adolescents, but listed a number of possibilities.

"Whether there's more mental health issues in those age groups, or if we just haven't paid as close attention to them and we perhaps were unable to diagnose as well as identify them," she said.

McGuire said mental health has never received the resources and funding that go into treating physical diseases. To turn things around, she said, the IWK needs to focus more on earlier diagnosis to reduce waiting times and have more outpatient and residential programs.

Stephen Ayer, executive director of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, said children need to be diagnosed as early as possible.

"It's absolutely critical for a number of reasons, one of which is that the person who has the illness is in great distress," he said. "I know because I've personally experienced mental illness at a young age and I know how distressful that was."

Ayer said children and youth who can't get help right away are essentially being kept from living fulfilling lives.

It's ultimately the Nova Scotia government's responsibility to make sure mental health services are given the necessary attention and funding, he said.

To view the IWK's 2008 Report to our Community, click here (PDF).

Photograph of Anne McGuire courtesy of the IWK Health Centre.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The National Institute of Mental Health Strategic Plan

From the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH):
NIMH Vision

NIMH envisions a world in which mental illnesses are prevented and cured.

NIMH Mission

The mission of NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure.

For the Institute to continue fulfilling this vital public health mission, it must foster innovative thinking and ensure that a full array of novel scientific perspectives are used to further discovery in the evolving science of brain, behavior, and experience. In this way, breakthroughs in science can become breakthroughs for all people with mental illnesses.

In support of this mission, NIMH will generate research and promote research training to fulfill the following four objectives:
  • Promote discovery in the brain and behavioral sciences to fuel research on the causes of mental disorders
  • Chart mental illness trajectories to determine when, where, and how to intervene
  • Develop new and better interventions that incorporate the diverse needs and circumstances of people with mental illnesses
  • Strengthen the public health impact of NIMH-supported research
To downlaod the NIMH Strategic Plan, click here.

The Staglin Family Announce Largest Ever Grant for Research in Prevention of Mental Disorders at 14th Annual Festival for Mental Health

From the September 15th edition of The Wall Street Journal:
The Pointer Sisters Electrify the Crowd

Chefs Mark Dommen and Todd Humphries Shine on Historic Day

RUTHERFORD, Calif., Sep 15, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- The 14th Annual Staglin Family Music Festival for Mental Health raised approximately $3 million at its September 13 event to help support pioneering mental health research. Co-hosts Shari and Garen Staglin announced that scientists who have been conducting research with seed funding from previous festival earnings were recently awarded a $21 million grant by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to begin a large multi-center study. A jubilant mood set in as R&B legends The Pointer Sisters took the stage and enticed guests to hit the dance floor in celebration of the historic day.

Dr. Ty Cannon, PhD, Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA helped the Staglins make the historic announcement of the $21 million grant for the North American Prodromal Longitudinal Study (NAPLS). Dr. Cannon has taken a lead in NAPLS, a consortium of eight North American prodromal (an early symptom indicating the onset of an attack or a disease) research centers, which study teens who are at risk for developing psychosis and can be identified and treated before the onset of a full-blown illness. Through this funding, Dr. Cannon is heading a team of scientists and clinicians to develop the means to head off psychosis as a regular clinical intervention, as the effects of an episode produce long-term changes in the brain that are far harder to treat. Currently, their testing has resulted in the ability to identify 40% of at-risk subjects who would develop psychosis before they actually do. This NAPLS grant will allow for further assessment, using an array of biological analyses, with the goal of raising the tests' predictive sensitivity to 80%. This would mean that a full 80% of people who would develop psychosis could be treated early, and, hopefully, be saved from it. The group also aims to uncover the specific neural and molecular changes that drive the emergence of schizophrenia and related illnesses, knowledge that will aid in the development of new approaches to early intervention.

"Funding from the Staglin Music Festival for Mental Health was absolutely instrumental in helping us secure this grant from the NIMH, both through the provision of 'seed' funding for the UCLA early detection of psychosis program and through support of a series of grant planning meetings of the NAPLS investigators," Dr. Cannon stated. "We feel very strongly that, with this major funding, an 80% predictive sensitivity rate is very achievable. This alone can greatly change the way we treat mental illness," Cannon added.
To read the entire article, click here.

Leadership and Capacity Building Training

Click on the image to magnify it.

Spontaneous Genetic Mutation Linked to Schizophrenia

From the September 19th edition of Psychiatric News:
By Jun Yan

As the search for genetic causes of schizophrenia intensifies, scientists have yet to find the specific defective genes at fault. The explanation, perhaps, is that variants are individually rare but located all over the genome.

A type of rare and spontaneous mutation that affects specific chromosomes has been linked to a substantial portion of schizophrenia cases and provides clues for the disease pathogenesis, as shown in several recent studies.

Copy-number variations (CNVs) refer to a type of genetic mutation in which chunks of DNA are repeated for a different number of times in a chromosome in different persons. The repeated DNA segments can range in size from thousands to millions of base pairs, may contain a gene or part of a gene, or disrupt a gene located in a chromosome, thus resulting in variations in the number of copies and the function of certain genes.

In two studies published in the July 30 Nature online, two groups of researchers separately found associations between the risk of psychotic disorders and rare CNVs. Deletions of substantial chunks of DNA at certain locations on the chromosomes were more common in individuals with schizophrenia or other psychoses than in healthy controls, the studies showed.

A number of studies have been published within the past few years that began to unravel the complex genetic patterns of mental illness, including but not limited to schizophrenia. Scientists have accumulated much evidence to suggest an important role of genetic predisposition in schizophrenia; however, unlike sickle-cell anemia or Huntington's disease, schizophrenia has a far more complex hereditary pattern and seems to involve a huge number of vulnerable mutations.
To read the entire article, click here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mothers’ stories of mental illness

To read this article, published in the September 18th edition of The Kings County Register, click here.

Here are some quotes from the article:
Marty has been to court twice to try to access treatment for Adam. With the involuntary treatment law, she encountered a warm-hearted judge.

“I sat there, read my letter and cried. I told him, he’s not an adult, he’s my child and he’s going to do something to hurt someone.”

Adam has been criminalized because of his illness on an assault charge.

This judge ordered him treated and he spent two weeks at Valley Regional Hospital. The result, Marty terms, was a miracle.

“It’s a blessing. I see his blue eyes and there’s life there. He’s a grown man, but it’s like the first day of school.”

A recently-released psychiatric patient is believed to have committed suicide this summer. Last month, police were called to Valley Regional Hospital to remove a psychiatric in-patient.

Long-time Canadian Mental Health Association volunteer Terry Hebb says he sees no improvement in local services.

“They have not gotten better. In fact, they continue to turn a blind eye.”

Many in the local community don’t bother going to Valley Regional for mental health treatment, Hebb says.

“Go to Halifax, they tell their friends, because your chances of getting help here are very slim. It’s bad all over the province. There aren’t enough psychiatrists.”

If you are a criminal, you actually get help, Hebb says.

“It shouldn’t be that way. There are real ways to help someone before they commit a violent crime.”

According to Hebb, many patients move to Kentville because of the regional hospital, expecting help. Housing for the chronically ill is a major problem.

“Beds at Valley Regional go empty because they won’t admit patients. Then, they release them at 5 p.m. on a Friday and they have nowhere to go.”

A woman who befriended a patient released August 8 describes meeting callous healthcare providers, no release plan and a young man left raving with a plastic bag full of three prescriptions in his hand. A few days later in a Kentville apartment, he covered the windows in toothpaste so no one could look in, gave away his groceries and burned possessions in the parking lot.

“Every day there’s something. Twice he’s locked himself out. I’ve had enough. Nobody takes ownership of him and I hear there are three more like him out there,” she said.

Back in January, Dr. John Campbell, head of mental health and addictions services, said the Annapolis Valley Health District had hired a manager of community support and rehabilitation in September 2007 to take a collaborative approach to chronic mental health cases. Campbell also said psychiatric beds in Kentville are full 50 to 60 per cent of the time.

Photograph courtesy of The Kings County Register

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Death by Excited Delirium: Diagnosis or Coverup?

From National Public Radio (NPR), February 27, 2007:
By Laura Sullivan (pictured)

You may not have heard of it, but police departments and medical examiners are using a new term to explain why some people suddenly die in police custody. It's a controversial diagnosis called excited delirium. But the question for many civil liberties groups is, does it really exist?
To read the entire article, click here. To listen to it, click here.

Also see:

Tasers Implicated in Excited Delirium Deaths

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fatality Inquiry Called into the Death of Howard Hyde

A September 17th news release from the Nova Scotia Department of Justice:
Minister of Justice Cecil Clarke [pictured], after consulting with the chief medical examiner, said today, Sept. 17, a fatality inquiry will be held into the death of Howard Hyde.

Mr. Clarke outlined the terms of reference for the inquiry and said it will examine the circumstances under which Mr. Hyde died, Nov. 22, 2007, the cause of death, and the manner of death, and may make recommendations about any matters arising from the inquiry.

A judge who conducts an inquiry under the Fatality Investigations Act has all the powers of a commissioner appointed under the Public Inquiries Act which includes, the authority to hold public hearings and hear witnesses.


Justice Minister Cecil Clarke says a fatality inquiry will be held into the death of Howard Hyde.

Mr. Clarke outlined the terms today of reference (September 17th) and says the inquiry will examine the circumstances under which Mr. Hyde died, November 22nd, 2007.

It will also look at the cause of death, the manner of death and may make recommendations about any matters arising from the inquiry.


Media Contacts:

Sherri Aikenhead
Cell: 902-456-6386

Carla Grant
Department of Justice

Also see:
N.S. orders inquiry into Hyde death

'Excited delirium,' not Taser, was cause of N.S. man's death: medical examiner

Photograph of Justice Minister Cecil Clarke courtesy of Andrew Vaughan of
The Canadian Press.

Cause of Death of Howard Hyde Released

A September 17th news release from the Nova Scotia Department of Justice:
Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner met with Howard Hyde's family today, Sept. 17, to share the cause of Mr. Hyde's death.

Mr. Hyde [pictured], a Dartmouth man with a history of paranoid schizophrenia, died Nov. 22, 2007.

Chief medical examiner Dr. Matthew Bowes has concluded that the cause of death is excited delirium due to paranoid schizophrenia. Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, obesity and restraint during a struggle were all contributing factors. Dr. Bowes has ruled the death accidental.

Excited delirium is a disorder characterized by some or all of the following: extreme agitation, violent and bizarre behavior, insensitivity to pain, elevated body temperature, and superhuman strength.

An examination of the evidence does not suggest that Mr. Hyde died directly of asphyxiation due to restraint, nor did Dr. Bowes uncover evidence that the conducted energy device, commonly known as a taser, used on Mr. Hyde the day before by Halifax Regional Police caused his death.

"At my request, the case file was independently reviewed and summarized by Dr. Marnie Wood, a forensic pathologist who was not involved in the initial investigation," said Dr. Bowes.

This completes Dr. Bowes' investigation of this case.


Nova Scotia's chief medical examiner met with Howard Hyde's family today (September 17th) to share the cause of Mr. Hyde's death.

Chief medical examiner Dr. Matthew Bowes has concluded that the cause of death is excited delirium due to paranoid schizophrenia. Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, obesity and restraint during a struggle were all contributing factors.

Dr. Bowes has ruled the death accidental.

An examination of the evidence does not suggest that Mr. Hyde died directly of asphyxiation due to restraint, nor did Dr. Bowes uncover evidence that the conducted energy device, commonly known as a taser, used on Mr. Hyde the day before by Halifax Regional Police, caused his death.

This completes Dr. Bowes' investigation of this case.


Media Contact:

Sherri Aikenhead
Department of Justice
Cell: 902-456-6386

Carla Grant
Department of Justice

Dr. Marnie Wood now appears to be employed by The Office of The Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia.

Mental health issues deserve an election voice: Coalition

An article published in yesterday's edition of Metro Halifax:
By Devin Stevens

The Mental Health Coalition of Nova Scotia held its third public forum yesterday, and is preparing to make noise during the federal election.

“Our voice isn’t enough,” said Carol Tooton, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Nova Scotia branch.

“We need to bring others from the community in who are working on similar issues, people with the lived experience, who have been through the system. Family members, friends, businesses.”

About 50 people met at the Halifax Forum, breaking into discussion groups and brainstorming how to best represent the mentally ill.

By mid-afternoon, large sheets of paper were taped to the walls, outlining the Coalition’s ideas. Over the next few weeks they plan to pressure federal election candidates to do more.

Tooton said that even though they don’t provide services, the coalition will be after municipal candidates to address those issues as well.

“Guess what? If you have a mental issue and you’re homeless, and you’re panhandling on Spring Garden Road, then it’s an issue for the municipality,” Tooton said.

Tooton said that mental health funding accounts for just four per cent of Nova Scotia’s health care budget, and that number is slipping.

Keith Brumwell runs the Caring and Sharing Social Club, where adults with severe mental health problems can get together, play games, and relax.

Brumwell said he was worried by the lack of funding.

He recently contacted the authorities about a person he thought was suicidal. The doctors agreed, but told the patient to go home for three or four days until a bed became available.

“Home was part of the problem with her,” Brumwell said.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Top 25 Hottest Articles from Schizophrenia Research - April to June 2008 ...

... as selected by Lancashire Care Library & Information Service, Lantern Centre, Vicarage Lane, Fulwood, Preston, UK.

To view, click here.

Rethinking Schizophrenia

From the September 15th edition of Chemical and Engineering News (C&EN):
Advances could spur treatments for more symptoms than current drugs address

By Carmen Drahl

WHEN ACCOUNTS of schizophrenia began to emerge in the 1800s, institutionalization was the most common treatment for patients suffering from the disease. Despite significant advances in therapy, many of today's patients still find fitting into society a big challenge. Although iconoclastic 1960s psychiatrist Ronald D. Laing once wrote "Schizophrenia cannot be understood without understanding despair," the prevailing sentiment at last month's American Chemical Society national meeting in Philadelphia was one of hope. Researchers have learned more about the pathways that underpin schizophrenia, and those advances have led to drugs in clinical trials that reflect new approaches to treating the disease.

Session organizer John E. Macor, executive director of neuroscience discovery chemistry at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), in Wallingford, Conn., told C&EN that existing medications for schizophrenia, known as antipsychotics, do not remedy all of the disease's symptoms. Speakers at the Division of Medicinal Chemistry-sponsored symposium advocated moving beyond established drugs, which are all aimed at dopamine neurotransmission. They argued that focusing on new targets, such as the glutamate neurotransmitter system, a nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, or a signaling pathway mediated by cyclic nucleotides, might tackle a wider range of symptoms.

In her stage-setting overview for the session, Judith A. Siuciak, principal scientist for neuroscience biology at BMS, characterized schizophrenia by what she described as positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms. Commonly prescribed drugs ease positive symptoms, which include hallucinations and disorganized speech. However, she said, the drugs are less effective at eliminating negative symptoms, such as lack of motivation and inability to experience pleasure, and cognitive symptoms, which include impairments to memory and decision-making.

"The medications that we have are only partially effective," concurs Robert K. Heinssen, deputy director of the National Institute of Mental Health's (NIMH's) Division of Services & Intervention Research, who did not attend the symposium but spoke with C&EN beforehand. What's more, he adds, not all patients respond equally well to the drugs. Even with medication, schizophrenia sufferers can be withdrawn and have trouble processing information, so "these patients are overwhelmed by the competing demands of our environment," he says.
Bold emphasis within the article is mine. To read the entire article, click here.

Selective Drug Pfizer's drug candidate for schizophrenia (stick model) blocks a specific phosphodiesterase enzyme. Protein surfaces contacting the drug are shown in a space-filling format. Amino acids and a water molecule that make contact with the drug are shown in ball-and-stick form.

Image courtesy of Eric Marr, Jayvardhan Pandit & Xinjun Hou/Pfizer.

New drug candidates for the treatment of schizophrenia.
Click on the image to enlarge it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Improve taser training for police, report says

From the September 12th edition of The Globe and Mail:
OTTAWA — National standards, more resources and better co-ordination are needed to ensure officers are properly trained to use taser stun guns, says a report commissioned by the RCMP.

The review also concludes the Mounties did not perform “due diligence” when they approved tasers for use earlier this decade, relying on incomplete and sometimes factually incorrect information.

In some cases, RCMP officers don't have access to tasers loaded with simulation cartridges, meaning members must resort to scenarios in which one yells “bang, bang” and another feigns being hit, the report says. “There is a need to ensure that all members have access to proper equipment and consistent training.”

The report was ordered by RCMP Commissioner William Elliott following last October's high-profile incident involving Robert Dziekanski, a Polish immigrant who died after he was tasered by Mounties at Vancouver International Airport.

The report, released under the Access to Information Act, says the RCMP did not get enough input from medical and mental-health experts about the device's impact on people.

It says the Mounties relied too much on advice from the stun gun's Arizona-based manufacturer, and did not treat the taser as a “prohibited firearm” – its proper legal classification.

“Many of the resulting problems in the RCMP policy-development process might have been avoided” had the force sought out impartial researchers to conduct studies “that could detect and take into account potential police and manufacturer biases,” concludes the 129-page report.
To read the entire article, click here.

Also see:
DOCUMENT: The independent Taser review (PDF file)

SSNS - AGM 2008

The 2008 Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (SSNS) was held on Saturday, September 6th.

Two new SSNS Directors were elected during the AGM, Cynthia Crowell and Sharon Murphy. For a complete list of members of SSNS Board of Directors, click here.

Cyril Allan, president of the SSNS (right) with Stephen Ayer, executive director.

Lorraine MacDonald, president of the Cumberland County Chapter of the SSNS

Donna Methot, president of the HRM Chapter of the SSNS

Pat MacLean, Board member of the Kings County Chapter of the SSNS

Stephen Ayer chairs the Round-Table discussion after the AGM

During the SSNS Board meeting after the AGM, Dola AuCoin was elected as the SSNS's representative on the Schizophrenia Society of Canada's Board of Directors

Stephen Ayer, executive director of the SSNS

All photographs by Dachia Joudrey.

Psychosis goes untreated too often

A letter to the editor published in the September 9th edition of The Boston Globe:
While I appreciated the candid Sept. 6 editorial "More needless carnage," the editorial made only passing mention of an important contributor to preventable violence: the lack of pragmatic commitment laws in many states, including Massachusetts, for patients with treatable psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia.

Our current law allows for involuntary emergency and inpatient treatment but cannot mandate long-term outpatient treatment for patients with psychotic illnesses. These patients often have little to no insight into their illness and will not consistently take medications, to their own and society's detriment. Unfortunately, some (not all) are also dangerous when untreated and psychotic.

Without a legal framework that acknowledges this clinical reality, even the most comprehensive and integrated mental healthcare system cannot function. Without legal reform leading toward mechanisms for longer-term assisted treatments (for example, court-mandated outpatient treatment), the Commonwealth will continue to abandon those members of our community who need our protection and care the most. Untreated psychosis is a preventable cause of human suffering and societal tragedy.

Dr. Oliver Freudenreich

The writer is a psychiatrist in the schizophrenia program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Also see:

Psychotic Disorders: A Practical Guide

Friday, September 12, 2008

Some N.S. drivers still need doctor’s note

From today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
They submitted paperwork before form scrapped

By Michael Lightstone, Staff Reporter

Applicants with mental health issues who’ve already filed a provincial driver’s licence form with a controversial question about psychiatric history must still supply the government with personal medical information, a spokeswoman for Service Nova Scotia said Thursday.

Donna Chislett said licence applications from such candidates won’t be purged and the province won’t start the process over with revised forms that leave out the mental illness reference.

"Once you’ve ticked Yes" on a question under the contentious form’s medical declaration section, "it starts the process going," Ms. Chislett said.

That means an applicant who is managing mental illness, and who applied for or renewed his or her licence using the controversial form, still has to get a doctor to do a physical and provide the province with the corresponding information.

But in the future, if the same person fills out the revised document without the reference to psychiatric history, that applicant will be spared the appointment with a physician and the filing of medical information with the government.
To read the entire article, click here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Click on the either arrow to start the video.

For more information, visit

Government cancels form asking drivers about mental health

From today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By Jeffrey Simpson, Staff Reporter

The province has yanked a new application form for getting a driver’s licence because of concern over questions it asked about the psychiatric history of applicants.

"We have withdrawn that form," Jamie Muir, the minister responsible for Service Nova Scotia, said Wednesday. "We’ll be going back to the old one."

His department recently changed the application form for people applying for or renewing a driver’s licence to indicate if they’ve ever had a "psychiatric or psychological condition."

Those who acknowledged that they had at some point in their lives — whether it be a bout of depression or ongoing schizophrenia — were supposed to give more specific details and then have a doctor complete an assessment and provide further information about their medical history.

Mr. Muir said staff at his department failed to check the appropriateness of the wording before putting the new forms into use.

"Quite frankly, there should have been (consultation)," he said. "I apologize for that."
To read the entire article, click here.

A snoop too far

An editorial from today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
MENTAL HEALTH advocates – and our readers, too, in a flood of online comments – say the provincial government has no business asking everyone to disclose their entire mental health history when they fill out the medical section of a driver’s licence renewal application every five years.

They are absolutely right. When the application’s medical declaration was quietly changed last spring, the new wording of some questions was far too broad and intrusive on health privacy, going beyond any reasonable effort to determine whether an applicant has a current medical condition that could impair driving.

So it was good to see Service Nova Scotia Minister Jamie Muir heed the public outcry on Wednesday. Mr. Muir reinstated the old language, which simply asks drivers if they have had a change in health that could affect their driving.

The questions on medical history touched a number of physical disorders, too, but the offensive wording asked "have you had" a pyschiatric or psychological condition.

Any reasonable person would read this as fishing for any sort of mental health counselling or treatment – whether for anxiety or stress or depression or personality disorders – experienced at any time in life. That sweeps in a vast range of things few people have not experienced at some time or other.

But if you answered yes, the registry could order you to take the standard medical examination required for drivers with chauffeur’s or commercial licences and for those whose medical fitness to drive has been questioned by their doctor or police. The doctor’s report would be reviewable by registry staff and could be referred to a medical committee to determine your fitness to drive.

This scattershot approach had the potential to burden GPs, the health system and individuals with a lot of unnecessary medical exams and reports. It would create another government record where personal health information must be secured – which is one more avenue for screw-ups and unintended disclosure. It could even discourage people from getting counselling or treatment – out of concern that anything to do with mental health could create a problem with licence renewal.

Registrar of Motor Vehicles Paul Arsenault defended the new practice Tuesday, saying the department has a public-safety interest in conditions like anxiety and depression because patients may be taking medication that affects their ability to drive.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Glen Race Trial Under Way In Plattsburgh

Posted by on September 8th:
PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. -- The trial of Glen Race, the Halifax, Nova Scotia, man accused of going on a killing spree in May 2007 that left three men dead, is under way in Plattsburgh.

Race, 27, is charged with killing Darcy Manor, 35, of Mooers, N.Y., and two Canadian men before fleeing to Texas, where he was arrested after a scuffle with border agents near the Mexican border.

Manor, a father of two, was shot and killed at a secluded hunting camp.

Opening arguments started at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Defense attorney Mark McCormick of Malone has indicated he will use an insanity defense.

The bench trial is expected to be largely focused on expert medical testimony regarding Race's mental capacity, according to McCormick.
To read the entire article, click here.

Also see:
Advocates for the not Criminally Responsible Schizophrenia Sufferers (ANCRSS)

Critics: Don’t tie driver’s licence renewal to psychiatric history

From today's edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By Jeffrey Simpson, Staff Reporter

Mental health advocates think the province should steer clear of asking drivers about their psychiatric history.

"It’s all very strange," Carol Tooton, executive director of the Nova Scotia division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said in an interview Tuesday. "It’s not the appropriate approach.

"I can’t think of any reason why they’d want to go this route."

Service Nova Scotia now requires people renewing their licences to indicate on an application form if they’ve had a "psychiatric or psychological condition."

People who indicate yes — even if it was something such as a bout of depression — are asked to provide more specific details and then must have a doctor complete a medical, sharing what’s usually confidential information with the government.

"The contents of the medical report will be reviewed by department staff and may be referred to a committee of medical specialists who make recommendations on clients’ medical fitness to safely drive," the province has advised affected people in writing.

The application form also asks those renewing their licences if they have had lung, heart, eye or neurological diseases, a stroke or dementia.

Doctors sometimes charge a fee for the medical and failure to comply with the request could result in drivers losing their licences.

Ms. Tooton wondered why the province would require such sensitive medical information that has little to do with somebody’s ability to operate a vehicle.

"I’ve never heard of this before. It certainly doesn’t help to eliminate the stigma around someone who may have a mental illness.
To read the entire article, click here.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hopkins Researchers Piece Together Gene "Network" Linked to Schizophrenia

--Patients Confirmed to Carry Mutations

A September 2nd press release from Johns Hopkins Medicine, Media Relations and Public Affairs:
Reporting this week in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have uncovered for the first time molecular circuitry associated with schizophrenia that links three previously known, yet unrelated proteins.

"This is very exciting because until now the many known genetic factors implicated in this condition were not connected in any way," says Akira Sawa, M.D., Ph.D., director of the program in molecular psychiatry and associate professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Hopkins. "Now, through a cross-disciplinary and cross-departmental collaboration, we not only have figured out how these three proteins interact with each other, we also have found patients who carry mutations. These results give us a really good foundation to dig deeper into such an elusive condition."

Sawa's team previously had characterized the DISC1 gene and protein which are required for proper nervous system development, and when disrupted, significantly contribute to schizophrenia. His team also had shown that DISC1 protein binds to PCM1 protein at the centrosome, which coordinates the structure and movement of cells.

Separately, Hopkins geneticist and associate professor of ophthalmology Nicholas Katsanis, Ph.D., and his team were studying an unrelated family of proteins had discovered that one of them, BBS4, also is found near the centrosome and also binds to PCM1. "But we weren't thinking schizophrenia at the time because BBS4 is involved in Bardet-Biedl Syndrome, which is a wide-ranging condition mainly known for its associated eye and and kidney problems but also does cause behavioral defects in some patients," says Katsanis.

It was Hopkins psychiatrist Nicola Cascella, M.D., co-director of the program in molecular psychiatry and assistant professor of psychiatry who, according to Sawa, "brought it all together" by realizing that the behavioral defects seen in Bardet-Biedl Syndrome patients and the molecular interaction of BBS4 and PCM1 could be related and relevant to schizophrenia.

"Serendipity brought us together from the far corners of campus and allowed us to see the links between these three proteins, centrosomes, and schizophrenia," says Katsanis. So they embarked on a collaboration to see if these coincidental observations would lead to a better understanding of schizophrenia.

First, to show that the three proteins do in fact physically interact with each other in a cell, the research teams attached different tags to each protein and followed the proteins in cells grown in the lab. They found that all three proteins do end up together, at the centrosome. When the researchers removed either DISC1 or BBS4 from cells, PCM1 would not make it to the centrosome, leading the researchers to conclude that DISC1 and BBS4 act together to recruit PCM1.

The researchers then asked if the failure of PCM1 recruitment to the centrosome in mice lacking either DISC1 or BBS4 affects brain development. To do this they reduced the amount of each of the three factors in the brains of developing mice. As a result, nerve cells in the cerebral cortex-the part of the brain responsible for memory and thought-failed to grow properly, suggesting that these three proteins act together synergistically during normal brain development.

The teams' next question was whether PCM1 could contribute to schizophrenia. By examining DNA from families with schizophrenia, the researchers discovered a mutation in PCM1 in one family, but only carried by family members who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

"This connection is exactly the sort of daisy chain from gene to disease that psychiatrists pray for," says Cascella. "This is a molecular pathway that we can potentially target for drug therapy."

"We are beginning to sub-stratify psychiatric illness into discrete molecular causes," adds Katsanis. "Now that we know that that a subset of schizophrenia is related to centrosomes and these associated proteins, we can start looking at broader questions of how people get psychiatric illness. We have a hook, now we can start fishing."

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health Silvio O. Conte Center grant, U.S. Public Health Service, as well as foundation grants from Stanley, NARSAD, and S-R. It was also funded by the Japanese ministry and foundations of JSPS, Japan Brain, Tokyo Biochemical Research and Brain Science

Authors on the paper are Atushi Kamiya, Perciliz Tan, Caitlin Englehard, Koko Ishizuka, Pulver, Cascella, Katsanis, and Sawa, all of Hopkins; Ken-ichiro Kubo and Kazunori Nakajima of Keio University in Tokyo, Japan; and Akiharu Kubo and Sachiko Tsukita of Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan.

Also see:

Recruitment of PCM1 to the Centrosome by the Cooperative Action of DISC1 and BBS4: A Candidate for Psychiatric Illnesses (PDF)

New schizophrenia pathway discovered by chance

Day of Action Against Poverty in Nova Scotia

Click on the image to enlarge it.

To join the Information List-Serve for the Nova Scotia Day of Action Against Poverty - November 15, 2008, click here.

Mental illness - past or present - is not a crime

From the August 28th edition of The Globe and Mail:
By André Picard (pictured)

Is having a bout of mental illness something that should result in a police record?

Astoundingly, that is the reality in much of this country.

It is an egregious breach of civil rights, yet the practice continues because people who suffer serious mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are all too often voiceless, powerless and victims of well-entrenched stereotypes.

To understand this story, a little background is in order. In the post-9/11 era, police checks have become the norm in our society; it is a simple way of weeding out pedophiles and other "bad" people, or at least giving the illusion of doing so.

If you apply for a job or a volunteer position - fundraising at the local hospital, coaching a peewee hockey team, helping out with the school choir or any other of those innumerable, thankless tasks - you will have to agree to a police check.

These checks come in two forms.

The first is a search of the computerized records maintained by the Canadian Police Information Centre. If you have a criminal record, the information is likely to show up in CPIC.

The second is a police records check. In addition to CPIC, local, municipal and provincial police forces maintain their own computerized records.

These records contain all manner of information about any contact you have with police, whether you are a criminal, a victim or a witness.

When you have a loud party and the neighbours rat you out, both your names are in the system. A Good Samaritan calling 911 is in there, and so are the people they are calling about, even if they are harming no one but themselves.

People who suffer bouts of mental illness tend to have a lot of encounters with police. They make suicide attempts and threats of suicide. Sometimes they starve themselves, drink or drug themselves silly, make paranoia-spewing phone calls and trash their cars. And these are the "respectable" people with nice homes and good jobs, not the stereotypical "crazy" street people.

These encounters all result in a police record.

"So what?" you may ask.

Aside from the principle that we should not accept gratuitous violations of civil rights, there are practical harms being done every day. Take the example of Ontario, where the Mental Health Police Records Check Coalition has done a wonderful job bringing this issue to light.

If you apply for almost any volunteer post in Ontario working with children, the elderly, people with disabilities etc. you must undergo a Vulnerable Person Screening.

This report will tell the volunteer agency if there are red flags on a person's police record. Some police forces simply make the vague statement
that there is "information of concern," while others provide details such as "suicide attempt" or "arrest under the Mental Health Act."

(Incidentally, when people are detained under the terms of the Mental Health Act, it is not an arrest. Police have the legal right to take people who are a danger to themselves for treatment at a medical or psychiatric facility, but police tend to use the misnomer "arrest.")

Mental illness is a medical issue. What business do police have disclosing this information to potential employers? Some police forces retain and release this information for up to 25 years after an "encounter."
To read the entire article, click here.

Stun gun report delayed till next year

From the August 27th edition of The Chronicle Herald:
MONTREAL (CP) — A report on electronic stun gun safety that was expected this week at a police chiefs convention has been delayed until next year.

The report on the weapons, commonly known by the brand name Tasers, will be subjected to an independent peer review and will only be released in 2009 with a longer-term study due in 2010, says Steve Palmer, the executive director of the Canadian Police Research Centre.

Palmer says until then, police should follow the recommendations of the 2005 report released by the research centre that suggests Tasers are "an acceptable intermediate force option."

"It’s important that this (report) is done well and that this is done in a way that brings value to a broad group of stakeholders: public, police, and policy makers," Palmer said at a news conference Tuesday at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police convention.

The convention runs until Wednesday.

The police chiefs’ association commissioned the review into stun guns last fall after Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport after being hit with the device by RCMP.

The five-part, federally funded report will compare stun guns to other weapons used by police and will look at medical research surrounding the use of Tasers and research pertaining to so-called excited delirium.

Excited delirium is a state of extreme mental and physiological excitement characterized by extreme agitation, hyperthermia, hostility and exceptional strength.

It’s commonly seen in cases of drug abuse and mental illness, most notably schizophrenia.

The problem became linked to police activity in the 1980s, paralleling increasing use of cocaine by drug users.

Unexpected deaths during police activity relating to people suffering from excited delirium have been linked to pepper spray, certain police restraint methods, and most recently, stun guns.
Bold emphasis is mine.

Friday, September 5, 2008

New Executive Director Appointed to Mental Health Foundation

Press release from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia:
(HALIFAX - Sept. 4, 2008) Robert Hunt, Chair of the Board of Directors for the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, is pleased to announce the appointment of Mary Lou Crowley [pictured] as the Foundation's Executive Director.

As the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia's new Executive Director, Ms. Crowley will lead a team of Foundation staff and volunteers to create a higher level of awareness of mental health and to support organizations to deliver the highest level of mental health care throughout Nova Scotia.

"Mary Lou Crowley is a proven leader who is passionate about the mental health cause and has an extensive fundraising and health care background," said Mr. Hunt. "She will be a tremendous asset to the Foundation in terms of securing financial contributions, developing partnerships, building public trust and increasing understanding and awareness of mental illness."

Ms. Crowley has more than 20 years as a professional fundraiser, primarily in the health care sector. Most recently, Ms. Crowley led the major gifts program in the Faculty of Health Professions at Dalhousie University. She has also held senior fundraising positions at Hotel Dieu Hospital in Kingston, the Children's Hospital of Western Ontario and the London Health Sciences Foundation, both in London, Ontario.

"Directly or indirectly, everyone is touched by mental illness and I'm honoured to be leading the Foundation to make a difference in people's lives," said Ms. Crowley. "With mental illness affecting one in five Nova Scotians, it is more important than ever that the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia continue to provide support and raise awareness throughout Nova Scotia."

The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is a registered charitable foundation that raises funds to support organizations and individuals throughout the province in the delivery of patient care, education, and research needs for Nova Scotians with mental illness.

The Foundation is in the early stages of Nova Scotia's first-ever capital campaign for mental health. The Opening Minds Capital Campaign will raise $3 million for community-based services and support for Nova Scotians with mental health issues.

Media contact:

Catherine Kieran
Director of Marketing & Communications
Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia
Phone: (902) 464-5994
Cell: (902) 233-3298
Fax: (902) 464-3001

Running for mental health

From today's The Chronicle Herald:
Wayne Cho remembers clearly the day he figured out why his guts were always in a knot.

Now 34, he arrived in Canada from China 20 years ago. Cho went back to school as an adult, to York University, and recognized himself in the pages of his Abnormal Psychology textbook.

"It wasn’t ‘Aha!’ "Cho said in Halifax on Wednesday. "It was more like, ‘Damn, I got anxiety!’

"I felt a little bit uncomfortable about the stigma, like, ‘Oh, I’ve got mental illness,’ but I was also relieved by the fact that I know what it is. I’d been worrying about the strange feeling in my stomach, for as long as I can remember. At that point, I knew I had to do something."

That something, he decided, would be to run across Canada to raise awareness about anxiety and depression, which affects about half a million Canadians, according to Statistics Canada.
To read the entire story, click here.

Wayne Cho pounds the pavement on Joseph Howe Drive [in Halifax], Wednesday. Cho, who just ran across Newfoundland and is now into Nova Scotia, is attempting to run across Canada to raise awareness about anxiety and depression. (Photograph by Tim Krochak / The Chronicle Herald)

Teen suicide rate remains high

From the September 3rd edition of the Chicago Tribune:
Researchers look for cause, Judith Graham writes

A year after experts sounded an alarm about a sharp rise in the number of young people taking their lives, teen suicide rates remain higher than expected, according to research published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The new data, from 2005, suggest that the long-term decline in teen suicide rates throughout the 1990s and the early part of this decade has moderated and may be nearing an end. Still, the findings are far from definitive.

The new JAMA report relies on a "what if" calculation. First, researchers looked at suicide trends for 10- to 19-year-olds from 1996 to 2003, a period when suicide rates sloped downward. Next, they predicted what suicide rates would have been in 2005 if the trend held.

The predicted rate of teen suicide for that year was 3.8 deaths per 100,000 young people; the actual rate was 4.49 deaths per 100,000, a statistically significant difference.

"Based on recent historical trends, we would have expected these rates to be a lot lower," said Jeffrey Bridge, lead author of the JAMA research letter and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Ohio State University. "We need to understand what's causing this."
To read the entire article, click here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Lower Sackville Meeting: A Family Voice for Mental Health

A Family Voice for Mental Health is a group of family members who come together once a month to provide emotional support and practical help to each other in coping with the stress and problems encountered in dealing with family members affected by mental illness. Most members of our group have relatives diagnosed with schizophrenia but we welcome everyone who needs support in dealing with all other forms of mental illness.

Just come to the meetings. There are no fees, dues, or costs of any kind to join our group.

Community Room at the Sobeys store, 752 Sackville Drive, Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia. For a map, click here.

Regular meeting times from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm on the third Thursday in each month. Any change in the schedule is notified to members prior to the date of the meeting.

For more information, click here (downloads a PDF document).