Mental-Health Issues in Canadian Prisons at All-Time High: Expert

By Larry Kusch, Winnipeg Free Press March 24, 2011
In federal prisons, Bradford said, mental-health staff do the best they can, but inmates wind up being treated similarly to outpatients in the community.
WINNIPEG — The numbers of people with serious mental disorders in Canada’s prisons and jails are “higher than they’ve ever been” and they continue to rise, an Ontario forensic psychiatrist says.

Dr. John Bradford told a national mental health conference in Winnipeg on Wednesday that the problem is not our country’s alone — it exists in the United States and around the world.

In North America, the problem has been exacerbated by a trend since 1960 to close down institutions for the mentally ill and treat people in the community. With the advent of certain drugs, that’s proved successful for many people, while others have fallen through the cracks, winding up homeless and incarcerated in correctional facilities.

“The problem is that it is very easy to forget about these people, right? Nobody really cares,” said Bradford, who helped establish the St. Lawrence Correctional Treatment Centre in Brockville, Ont., near Ottawa in 2003.

It is an acute 100-bed psychiatric hospital for persons with serious mental disorders who are serving provincial jail sentences. No such facility exists
for women in Ontario. And no such facility exists for men or women in other provinces.

Bradford said it’s not right that an inmate with a serious cardiac problem can receive treatment in a medical facility, but one with a serious mental disorder cannot.

He said he fears that governments aren’t addressing the problem because it’s very expensive to do so.

In federal prisons, he said, mental-health staff do the best they can, but inmates wind up being treated similarly to outpatients in the community.

And that’s not good enough for those with serious mental disorders, he said.

Bradford gave one of several keynote speeches on the opening day of the two-day conference, which is examining the issue of mental health in the workplace and in aboriginal communities, as well as in the criminal justice system.

More than 200 professionals, activists and observers have registered for the event, which is hosted by the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba.

The best known of Wednesday’s speakers was Margaret Trudeau, former wife of the late Pierre Trudeau.

In an hour-long presentation, sprinkled with humour, Trudeau spoke candidly about her struggle with mania and depression and the effects it had on those around her.

“I never wanted to be a party girl. I always wanted to be a mom,” Trudeau told the crowd at one point.

She said she didn’t regain her health until she began to honestly confront her illness and seek professional help.

Trudeau has authored two books and won awards for her efforts to help people suffering from mental illness.

After her speech, she signed copies of her books for a long lineup of conference goers at the Marlborough Hotel.

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