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Observing World Health Day through Canadian legal lens

Monday, April 01, 2019 @ 10:32 AM | By Jessyca Greenwood

Jessyca Greenwood %>
Jessyca Greenwood
World Health Day is recognized on April 7 each year. It was an initiative of the World Health Organization to draw attention to health issues on a global scale.

World Health Day has been held annually since 1950. The theme this year is universal health coverage, and discussions are set to be centred around furthering awareness on quality and accessible health care for all. On an international scale, Canada is celebrated for both the quality and accessibility of our public health care system. However, for those experiencing a mental health crisis, this system is far from perfect. I see it every day in my practice as a criminal and mental health lawyer in downtown Toronto.

Mental health resources are not adequately meeting the public need, especially when it comes to the most marginalized members of society. For many of my clients and their families, it is a constant battle to avoid slipping through the cracks of the system. They spend months on waiting lists after seeking a referral before being seen, or they go to the hospital only to be turned away or triaged and sent home in the hopes that they will be better tomorrow.

This process is known as “treat-and-street.” Individuals are given a dose of medication and discharged. The immediate problem may be addressed, but the long-term needs of the individual are often unmet and ultimately aggravated. This approach to treatment is one of the major challenges facing those proactively seeking treatment, which only underscores the situation for those resistant to intervention.

Finite resources are often used to explain the strain and effects of this method of treatment in Canada. However, treating the immediate problem with no follow-up isn’t helping save on costs. In all likelihood, it costs us all more.

My clients, who go to the hospital seeking treatment and are ultimately turned away, often find themselves in conflict with the law. This situation escalates and becomes more costly for society as the resources of the criminal justice are deployed.

The consequences of being incarcerated are numerous: they may lose their stable housing, miss critical appointments, have their financial support suspended or deteriorate physically and mentally while in custody. These are serious and in some cases, devastating consequences.

I’ve certainly encountered some sad cases, where my clients were either suicidal or seeking to harm themselves and were taken to hospital by police. Following their brief time in the hospital they are sent home, where unsupported they hurt themselves or others. I am advocating for our justice system, justice minister, attorney general and policy makers to further examine the social determinants of health and their link to mental health and wellness.

More extensive integrations between our justice and health care systems must be an essential part of any systemic solution. For the marginalized and those in crisis, the health and justice systems are two sides of the same coin. Greater partnerships between legal and health agencies could proactively offer services to persons at risk or in crisis, work to divert them out of the justice system, or take steps to prevent them from entering it all together.

In this context, it is great that we have health coverage. However, it could be even more impactful if those who need it can fully access it, with proper funding to offer appropriate resources.

As principal lawyer at Greenwood Defence Law Jessyca Greenwood has been fiercely guiding and defending clients facing allegations of wrongdoing for more than a decade. You can follow her @jessycadefence.

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