Failure to meet mental health needs

TheStar.com – Opinion/Letters – Re: Mental Health: Foot-dragging by prisons, Editorial, Sept. 27
Published On Tue Sep 28 2010

This editorial is a reminder of the stigma, discrimination and stereotypes associated with mental illness and how the federal government has failed to meet its moral, ethical and legal obligations. It has failed to provide inmates with disabilities, including mental illness, with access to a full range of mental health services and supports including: assessment, care, treatment, rehabilitation, crisis support, peer support, counselling and assistance in maintaining responsibility for their own wellness and recovery. It has decided that suicide is just part of dealing with special needs offenders and it does not appear to be concerned that the suicide rate is seven times the national average. The human rights abuses are alarming.

Correctional institutions have become the mental health institutions of the 21st century and they are poorly equipped to respond to the mental health needs of those entrusted with their care and custody. Correctional Service Canada should immediately appoint a mental health advocate to protect the legal and civil rights of inmates with mental health issues and to implement a mental health strategy. It must ensure inmates have access to crisis intervention services, peer supports, self-help resources and it must educate every correctional officer regarding mental health, mental illness, treatment modalities and how to provide an appropriate response to those experiencing a mental health crisis.

Warehousing inmates and denying treatment does nothing to prepare them for life in the community and in many ways it puts every Canadian at risk. The lack of programs and services and the denial of mental health care and treatment must become a human rights issue. Inmates broke the law but their punishment shouldn’t be a death sentence through the denial of appropriate care and treatment.

David Simpson, St. Thomas

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