Category Archives: Mental Health

Elderly Woman Still Hiding from VIHA

An update on Mia following her narrow escape from involuntary electroshock therapy

Eight months after an independent tribunal ordered her released from hospital, the Vancouver Island Health Authority is still pursuing a Saanich woman. Focus previously reported on 82-year-old Mia (“The Case for Electroshocking Mia,” November 2012), whom VIHA senior geriatric psychiatrist Dr Michael Cooper had slotted for electro-convulsive shock therapy against the wishes of her and her family. Last July, an official inquiry determined Mia needn’t be forcibly treated for depression nor even hospitalized; however, almost immediately VIHA representatives began calling, coming by the family home, and demanding that Mia check in with them. Mia, her granddaughter Michelle and grandson-in-law Russel and their children fled the city.

They’d hoped they could have quietly returned to their normal lives by now, but in March, VIHA sent a letter to Mia’s lawyer demanding “evidence” of Mia’s exact current location and that she’s undergoing “treatment of her medical conditions.” Otherwise, continues the letter, “VIHA will need access to [Mia].” Read the rest at Focus online.

Ombudsperson Pans Incapability Assessments

Even when you already know them, sometimes it’s shocking to hear facts confirmed. In February, BC Ombudsperson Kim Carter released her 186-page investigation into BC’s processes for determining people to be “incapable” of controlling their own legal or financial affairs, “No Longer Your Decision.” Focus has reported extensively on the arbitrary, draconian, often self-serving ways by which citizens are being stripped of these basic rights by long-term care providers, health authorities, and the public guardian. Carter concluded the process has indeed been “failing to meet the requirements of a fair and reasonable procedure.”

Indeed, on nearly every key issue, the Ombudsperson’s findings disturbingly reflected many people’s worst experiences and reinforced the worst fears of the rest of us. For starters, there’s no definition of “incapability,” even though authorities are using the concept daily to take away people’s rights to make their own decisions. BC law, Carter clarified, “does not define what it means for an adult to be incapable or establish any criteria or test for this determination. Neither the Public Guardian and Trustee nor the health authorities have defined what incapable means.”

As for the assessment process through which authorities can declare you to be incapable, that’s a free-for-all, too. BC law “does not set out a process to be followed…does not require that an assessment or opinion from a physician be obtained…does [not] establish any standards for such an assessment…does not require that the [assessor] knows the adult and has examined the adult recently…” And to top it off, most health authority staff admitted to Carter that they had no special training in conducting incapability assessments, and the health authorities admitted they provide no such training.

Carter further found that there are no requirements for health care providers or the public guardian to even notify you or your family that your incapability is being assessed, let alone to explain their reasons for concluding you’re incapable or give you any opportunity to respond.

Carter recommended that the Ministry of Justice at least create steps allowing you to legally challenge a health authority’s or public guardian’s conclusion that you are incapable. The BC Justice Ministry promised only to “review” this final recommendation; however, most of the Ombudsperson’s recommendations on the other issues were accepted by government and will supposedly be in force by July 1, 2014. Carter wrote that she was “cautiously optimistic.”

Forced Psychiatric Treatment and Electroshock in BC – Statistics

After a lot of effort, I’ve managed to get some statistics from the British Columbia Ministry of Health, and want to share them with researchers, activists and journalists.

Here are the numbers of British Columbians certified (usually meaning they were incarcerated and forcibly treated with drugs or electroshock) under the Mental Health Act in BC from 2002 to 2011, broken down by health regions: BC Forced Treatment Stats. Note that the real numbers are undoubtedly much higher, because certifying someone is a simple procedure of filling out a one-page form, and psychiatrists often need simply threaten to certify someone in order to gain the person’s compliance with confinement and treatment.

And here are the numbers of British Columbians subjected to electro-convulsive therapy (ECT, or electroshock) covering the years 1992-2012: BC ECT rates 1992-2012.

And here are the numbers for ECT in the Vancouver Island Health Authority region, including breakdowns by age and gender: VIHA Summary of ECT Stats by Site.

 

The Case for Electroshocking Mia

An elderly woman, with the support of her family, has been struggling to avoid forced psychiatric treatment at the hands of Vancouver Island Health Authority doctors.

When I arrived at the prearranged location, Michelle met me at the door. “Sorry, I didn’t want to tell you on the phone,” she said. “Now we’re going to go to where Mia really is.”

We drove through the winding suburban roadways, and it felt like I was being taken into remote mountains of Central America for a secret meeting with el Comandante of the guerrilleros. I was actually on my way to interview an 82-year-old Victoria woman named Mia, described by friends and family as quiet, sophisticated and loving. Mia hadn’t threatened anyone or broken any laws, but she was on the run—from her doctor and the Vancouver Island Health Authority. And this tense drama had come to epitomize the challenges, and frightening dangers, of enforcing powerful mental health laws that are guided by woefully weak science. Read the rest at Focus online.

Forced Drugging of Seniors Still Increasing

Ombudsperson, BCCLA and Greens criticize BC’s draconian laws.

I WAS READING THE CORONER’S REPORT on Kathleen Palamarek and something didn’t seem right. I’d been following her story since 2006. This was a diminutive, timid, 88-year-old nursing home resident with dementia and a heart condition, who’d been somewhat controversially diagnosed with dementia-related psychosis. She’d died of a heart attack. The coroner had found the antipsychotic olanzapine in her body.

Palamarek hadn’t been taking olanzapine willingly; she’d frequently complained about feeling woozy and “drugged up.” She couldn’t refuse the drug, though, because her doctors had declared her incapable and, when she’d protested, they’d certified her under BC’s Mental Health Act (MHA). Antipsychotics are being used increasingly in seniors’ homes as chemical restraints to pacify and control people. But Health Canada has issued the highest possible warnings to doctors that antipsychotics are “not approved for the treatment of patients with dementia-related psychosis” and that these powerful tranquillizers have been linked to a near-doubling of death rates in the elderly, mostly from heart attacks.

Yet here’s what coroner Stan Lajoie wrote about Kathleen Palamarek’s heart attack: “Death was clearly and unequivocally due to natural causes.” There was not so much as a hint anywhere in his seven-page report that her heart attack might have been linked to a drug known to dramatically increase heart attacks in the heart-weakened elderly. Why?

Click here for the rest of the article in April’s Focus magazine.