Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Crisis line handles mental health issues

An article published in the February 26th edition of The Chronicle Herald:
By Michael Gorman, Truro Bureau

TRURO — Nova Scotians dealing with mental health concerns can now call a single number at any time to get help.

The Mental Health Crisis Line can be reached by calling 1-888-429-8167, Health and Wellness Minister David Wilson [pictured] announced Tuesday.

“Having … a number that anybody in Nova Scotia can call, I think will be positive,” he said.

The number connects callers to licensed clinicians with expertise in social work, nursing or occupational therapy.

Being able to call the number from anywhere in the province will help those with mental illness, including those living in isolated areas, get help, the minister said.

Geoff Alcock agreed.

Recalling his own experiences with mental illness, the patients’ rights adviser and peer support specialists said such an option would have been helpful.

“The isolation of mental illness is bad enough when within reach of a psychiatric facility,” said Alcock. “In the rural areas, it’s a huge burden to bear.”

Often friends and family aren’t sure what to do or who they can call in times of need, he said.

In his own case, Alcock said “the problem was that there was no assistance or help whatsoever for my wife.”

“She had absolutely no idea as to what to do or who to turn to in the event of me experiencing a suicidal crisis. She was very much left in a lurch.”

Having one number that anyone can call should increase awareness while making sure the people who need help receive it, Alcock said.

The province is putting $190,000 into the line, which will hire two more full-time people, bringing the total to 11. Wilson said he feels confident the increased staff will be able to meet the demands of the entire province.

“We’ll keep evaluating it. If down the road we need to (re-examine) this and potentially look at supporting it more, we’ll do that.”

The province will now focus on promoting awareness of the crisis line, said Wilson. He said it compliments the 211 system, which provide’s access to social services, and the 811 system, which sees about 100,000 people calling it each year to speak with a nurse.


Also see:

Access to Mental Health Services now Available Province-wide

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Healthy Minds Cooperative Newsletter - March 2013

Please click on the image to magnify it.

To download the entire newsletter (PDF), please click here.

Also see:

Healthy Minds Cooperative

Monday, February 11, 2013

Let's talk about punishing mentally ill

A column from today's edition of the Winnipeg Free Press:
Mental health has certainly become the story of the month, albeit for completely different reasons.

By Dan Lett (pictured)

February is Let's Talk month, an initiative of Bell Canada to create greater awareness of mental-health issues. The campaign culminates Tuesday with national Let's Talk day.

Bell's work has been supported by the seven Canadian National Hockey League teams, which together are hosting events to demystify mental illness. The Winnipeg Jets have created Project 11, a campaign to honour former Manitoba Moose fan favourite Rick Rypien, who took his own life in August 2011 after battling depression.

Perhaps, through these gestures, the country will understand mental illness is a medical condition. It's not bad attitude, a lack of character or a sign of weakness. And its victims are just that. Victims.

One can only imagine how incredibly pleased the folks behind these campaigns were last week when, just days before national Let's Talk day, Ottawa put on a full-court press to convince Canadians mental health is a crime that requires greater punishment.

In Vancouver last Friday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced legislation to create a new high-risk designation for some people found not criminally responsible (NCR) for a crime.

High-risk subjects would spend at least three years in a mental hospital before being assessed for release.

As a tool for improving public safety, is the new law an upgrade from the current one? Current law requires anyone found NCR to be held in a secure facility where their illness is treated. They are subject to annual psychiatric assessments. An independent review board in each province is responsible for deciding when, or if, someone has recovered to the point where they can be released, the conditions for that release and when it should be revoked for failing to live up to those conditions.

It is a system that has worked remarkably well. The use of a NCR finding is quite rare. Even so, the most recent statistics show fewer than three per cent of all people declared NCR of a crime reoffend after their release. It also deserves to be said NCR provisions do not provide sanctuary for all those who author violence and mayhem. NCR would never apply, for example, to the Bernardos or the Olsons or the Picktons of the world. It is not a convenient excuse for drunks, drug addicts or your garden-variety sociopath.

NCR is a precise medical finding an accused person could not, because of a mental illness, form the intent to commit a crime. That they did not really know what they were doing, or what they were doing was wrong. It is the justice system's way of acknowledging some people are so sick, they should not be punished as criminals.

Why change the law? Despite the rarity of NCR findings and recidivism, it is a hot-button, visceral issue for many Canadians.

NCR findings usually follow gruesome, horrifically violent crimes. The fact those found NCR are not convicted of a crime and not sent to prison sparks anger and outrage among what is no doubt a significant segment of the population.

They howl about a lack of justice, the laxness of the punishment or the brevity of hospital incarceration. Unfortunately, with each of these complaints, we are demonstrating a profound ignorance about the nature of mental illness.

Proponents of this new NCR law may think a line can be drawn between those who suffer in silence or hurt themselves as a result of mental illness and those who hurt others.

The inconvenient truth is no such line can be drawn; it is the same illness and requires the same treatment.

Our inability to accept this truth manifests primarily in a desperate shortage of treatment options. It is what puts thousands of mentally ill Canadians in prison. It is what forces some of the mentally ill to carry their burdens alone until, lamentably, they can no longer withstand the strain, and hurt themselves or someone else. The new law not only ignores this truth, it fortifies our ignorance.

The new law says public safety must now be the first concern in any decision to release someone found NCR. That suggests we were routinely releasing people who were a threat to the public out of some misguided compassion. We did not, and the insinuation is profoundly, intellectually dishonest.

There are those who will argue public safety must always trump compassion for the mentally ill. However, it is only through a delicate balancing act -- the careful consideration of the nuances of each individual case involving a NCR finding -- that we get the opportunity to demonstrate our maturity and humanity. Consider that despite the complexities of the mental illness, we have a very nearly perfect record in ensuring public safety. Offering to "fix" something with that record of success is a cynical triumph of public relations over responsible governing.

So, let's talk about mental illness. Let's get it out into the open and challenge our preconceptions.

But as we're doing that, let's ensure we're not talking out of both sides of our mouths.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2013 A8

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Friday, February 8, 2013

Mental Health Community Expresses Concern with Proposed NCRMD Changes

A press release issued today by some of Canada's mental health organizations:
Changes must consider the unique needs of people with mental illness

WINNIPEG, Feb. 8, 2013 /CNW/ - Today, the Government of Canada tabled a Bill proposing changes to the Not Criminally Responsible on account of Mental Disorder (NCRMD) provisions of the Criminal Code. The Bill proposes, amongst other things, that annual reviews for individuals deemed NCRMD of a violent crime can be pushed to every three years and that "high risk" NCRMD accused cannot be considered for release by a Review Board until their designation is revoked by a court.

Given the significance of passing such changes, Canada's mental health community has come together to form a working alliance in an effort to strengthen their voice on this critical matter - which is of vital importance to the mental health community and the one in five Canadians with mental illness.

The alliance strongly believes it has the knowledge, resources and tools that will allow the Government to move ahead with NCRMD changes that will take into account the need to protect the public from dangerous persons, while addressing the therapeutic needs of these mentally disordered offenders so as to mitigate risk and promote recovery.

"The Government of Canada has made progress in enhancing public understanding of mental health and mental illness with important initiatives such as the development of the Mental Health Commission. However, these proposed changes are inconsistent with its work to-date," said Chris Summerville, Alliance Facilitator and Chief Executive Officer, Schizophrenia Society of Canada. "These changes will unnecessarily heighten the public's fears, increase negative stigma around mental illness and ultimately undermine the reintegration of NCRMD individuals without increasing public safety."

In Canada's most populated province, Ontario, only .001% of individuals charged with Criminal Code violations were adjudicated NCRMD. Recidivism rates for NCRMD individuals range from 2.5 to 7.5%. These numbers are far lower than that of federal offenders in the regular justice system, at a rate of 41 to 44%. And despite what Canadians are lead to believe, the seriousness of the crime committed does not equate to the likelihood for the offender to reoffend or even his/her ability to improve his/her mental health state and live a normal, healthy life.

The alliance recognizes that the government's review of the mental disorder provisions of the Criminal Code is important to many Canadians, and it also recognizes the fact that the public has legitimate reasons to be concerned about safety, however the group is working together to ensure that this public policy is informed by the latest evidence based knowledge.

The working alliance has requested a meeting with the Minister of Justice to discuss theses proposed changes. Implementing such legislation cannot be in the best interest of Canadians without consulting and working with the mental health community. Canadians want a working mental health system and not an out-dated approach.

SOURCE: Schizophrenia Society of Canada
For further information:

Chris Summerville
Alliance Facilitator and Chief Executive Officer, Schizophrenia Society of Canada
Office: (204) 786-1616
Mobile: (204) 223-9158


Angela Cerovic
Office: (613) 786-9923
Mobile: (613) 371-9644

Friday, February 1, 2013