Pleading for help

A Red Deer mother wants the province to hurry up and put new Mental Health Act regulations in place so people like her son are required to take their medication.

A Red Deer mother wants the province to hurry up and put new Mental Health Act regulations in place so people like her son are required to take their medication.

Anita, who did not want to use her last name to protect her grandchildren, said her son, 25, has been in and out of hospital due to schizophrenia and is using illegal drugs to self-medicate.

In 2007, the province amended Alberta’s Mental Health Act. Changes include community treatment orders that would force mentally ill people to take their medication if it was necessary to keep them and the public safe.

Regulations for community treatment orders will be in place on Jan. 1, 2010.

Anita said that’s too long to wait.

“What do we do in the meantime?” she asked.

“My son would fall under that criteria for community treatment orders. When my son gets sick, he gets very violent. It’s his illness,” Anita said.

After her son was diagnosed in 2002, Anita said she was able to look after him and get him to take his medication for a few years. Now that she’s looking after his two small children, he’s too sick to live with them.

The amendment will go a long way to help families and reduce Alberta’s health care costs, she said.

“If we kept people on their medication, they wouldn’t be getting sick as much and they wouldn’t be taxing our health care system. It’s about maintenance, maintaining their health.”

And it’s safer for the public, Anita said.

Changes to the Mental Health Act came out of recommendations from a fatality inquiry after Martin Ostopovich shot and killed RCMP Cpl. Jim Galloway in Spruce Grove in 2004.

Ostopovich was schizophrenic, and his mental health deteriorated when he didn’t take his medication.

Colin Simpson, executive director of the Edmonton chapter of the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta, said the society has been waiting for community treatment orders to be available in Alberta for 28 years.

It would be rarely used but an important tool for some people with mental illness, he said.

“They cycle in and out of hospital, on and off their meds, which is quite dangerous actually. People with mental illness are quite vulnerable when they get sick. They can run into all kinds of harm and trouble,” Simpson said.

Donnae Schuhltz, spokesperson with Alberta Health and Wellness, said under the current provisions of the Mental Health Act, if people believe someone is a danger to themselves or others, a provincial judge could order an examination that could result in one-month treatment in hospital.

A reassessment would be done at the end of the month.

Alberta Health Services is spending $17 million over four years to implement the Mental Health Act amendments.

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