Mental health – It’s not what you think.

Mental health has been a topic of discussion for years; however, I still find many individuals do not understand its diversity and implications.

Mental health can range from depression to schizophrenia, from panic attacks to bipolar disorders. The interesting aspect of mental health is that it affects us all but in different ways. For instance, we will all experience some degree of depression at some point in our lives and most of us will be able to overcome it; though, not everyone is as lucky.

But what about long- term mental illnesses? Are all mental health patients a threat? To learn more about this topic I volunteered with the Consent and Capacity Board.

What is the Consent and Capacity Board?

The C.C.B reviews the involuntary status of patients in psychiatric facilities. It also reviews decisions regarding admittance of an incapable person to a hospital, psychiatric facility, nursing home or home for the aged for the purpose of treatment. Furthermore, the Consent and Capacity Board oversees a substitute decision maker’s compliance with the rules for substitute decision making. This tribunal is made up of psychiatrists, lawyers and members of the general public.

What did I find?

To my surprise, many of the patients I observed in the Consent and Capacity Board hearings had endured similar circumstances as the average person but were unable to pull themselves out of the situation. For instance, I remember a woman who suffered severe shock from being separated from her children following her divorce. When she spoke to the review board, she informed them “I wasn’t always like this, I just miss my children. I became like this after I lost them.” The woman was not kept in the facility because she was a danger to others but rather because she was a danger to herself. She was suffering from depression.

After sitting in on multiple different hearings I realized the complexities of mental illness. Some patients can manage their condition through medication alone; others require therapy and a small portion of the population are placed in facilities. However, due to a lack of resources and understanding, many mental health patients end up in the criminal justice system. I recall a patient who was arrested for dressing as Jesus and blessing cans in No Frills. This patient was schizophrenic. Fortunately, his condition was recognized and he was later put in a psychiatric facility where he received the medical attention he required and with time became a well- functioning member of society again. In fact, he became an advocate for mental health patients and spoke to high school students about removing the stigma against mental illness as the next generation.

The overgeneralization that all individuals with mental health issues are dangerous and cannot successfully function in society is discriminatory and false. The criminal justice system is not a place for the mentally ill because patients do not receive the attention they need and this further blocks their access to rehabilitation. We still have a lot to learn about mental illness but the first step is to avoid passing judgement and trying to understand the hardships behind the label. Tribunals such as the Consent and Capacity Board serve this purpose by making informed decisions that the average individual may not be able to make.

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