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Field notes.

In 2009, several of the Health Law Institute's staff had the privilege of working with the Alberta Mental Health Patient Advocate Office and many generous sponsors to organize a workshop entitled "Giving Voice: Advocacy and Mental Health." This one-day forum was held on November 9, 2009 and introduced participants to changes in Alberta's mental health legislation, including the broadening of criteria for involuntary admission to psychiatric facilities, and the introduction of community treatment orders. The forum also provided a unique opportunity to hear from leaders in mental health and law regarding advocacy on behalf of those living with mental illness, or involved in the mental health or justice systems.

The presentations included reviews of Alberta's legislation, discussions of effective advocacy on behalf of those suffering from a mental illness, and more general considerations of individual and organizational ethics. In addition to being struck by the knowledge and passion of many presenters, I was impressed by the enormous challenges inherent in many mental health issues. Those suffering from mental illness are undoubtedly a vulnerable population who can be both stigmatized and marginalized in the healthcare system and wider society. Further, care for those suffering horn a mental illness sometimes involves a challenging balance between protecting individual rights and implementing (or even compelling) necessary treatment.

Like the presentations at our recent conference, the papers in this issue address a variety of topics related to mental health law and policy.

Gerald Robertson's article, "Civil Commitment and the 'Unsuitable' Voluntary Patient" deals with the controversial subject of involuntary commitment to a psychiatric facility. In Alberta, involuntary commitment requires that a patient must be (1) suffering from a mental disorder as defined in the Mental Health Act, (2) likely to cause harm to self or others or to suffer substantial mental or physical deterioration or serious physical impairment, and (3) unsuitable to be admitted to the psychiatric facility other than as a formal patient. Robertson's article examines the limited attention given to the third requirement and considers several challenging issues arising in its application.

Mary Marshall provides an overview of the Mental Health Amendment Act and describes the rationale behind the key legislative changes in "Everything You Want to Know About Changes to the Mental Health Act."

Peter Carver's paper, "Fact or Fashion? Alberta Adopts the Community Treatment Order" focuses on a legal mechanism by which physicians may place a person under a legal order requiring them to follow a prescribed treatment plan while living in the community. Carver discusses the community treatment order's track record outside Alberta, describes some of the advantages and limitations of these orders and evaluates whether such orders are more fashion than breakthrough.

Finally, Brenda-Lee Doyle's and Sandra Harrison's paper, "The Mental Health Act and the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act: Working Together to Protect the Rights of Albertans" reviews the recently amended Alberta Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act, describes how it works with the new Mental Health Act and highlights some of the ways both Acts protect the rights of Albertans.

Mark Ammann

Research Associate/Project Manager

Health Law Institute
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Author:Ammann, Mark
Publication:Health Law Review
Date:Sep 22, 2010
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