When people are involuntarily hospitalized (certified) in British Columbia under the Mental Health Act, they can’t leave the hospital without their doctor’s permission or make decisions about their psychiatric care, but they don’t lose all of their rights. In fact, the legislation says that they must be told about their Mental Health Act rights—such as the right to challenge their certification through a review panel hearing—when they are certified and whenever their certification is renewed.
But in a 2011 Ministry of Health survey of short-stay mental health patients, 43% of respondents who had been certified said they were not told their rights in a way they could understand.
One possible reason may be that clinicians aren’t consistently telling patients about their rights. Another may be that patients are being told their rights when they’re not mentally well enough to understand them. A third reason may be that the document clinicians use to give rights information to patients—the government’s Form 13 (see below) – is not an effective communication tool.
To explore that last possibility, as part of my PhD research, I spent last year interviewing people with lived experience of certification about Form 13. Their comments suggested that the form on its own wasn’t satisfying patients’ information needs. Instead, patients wanted:
- information about not just the rights themselves but also how to exercise them,
- a more empowering and caring tone and less legal and bureaucratic language,
- information in more than one format—for example, video or audio for people who may have trouble reading, especially when first hospitalized, and
- a friendlier, more readable design, preferably with colour.
In response to this feedback, I worked with a team that includes former patients, a psychiatric clinical nurse educator, and a legal expert to co-create a new set of rights information materials (samples below) for patients, including a video, a pamphlet, two posters, and a wallet card. The patient partners on our team wrote the first draft of these materials, and we revised and refined them through three rounds of user testing, asking people who have experienced certification for feedback.
Based on this feedback, we’ve finalized the materials, and we’re thrilled to make them available for everyone to use. You’ll find them on our website, bcmentalhealthrights.ca, where they are free to download, print, and share. They are accredited patient information resources with Patients Included, meaning they were created for patients with patient input at every stage.
Our team is now working to introduce these materials to clinicians who work with people who have been certified so that involuntary patients will benefit from these new communication tools while they are in the hospital. We’ve already delivered information sessions to several hospitals in the Lower Mainland and would love to offer them to clinicians across BC. If you work with a hospital or mental health team that might want to learn more about our rights materials, let them know about our project and urge them to get in touch with us.
Our website is also be home to a blog (bcmentalhealthrights.ca/blog), where we will feature posts about mental health rights from patients, family care partners, clinicians, policy makers, and legal experts. If you’re interested in contributing—or if you have an idea for a topic you’d like us to cover—please contact us!