Alberta Ombudsman, Marianne Ryan introduces best practice paper “Giving Voice to Mental Health Patients” at the virtual International Ombudsman Institute’s 12th General Assembly and World Conference this week.
The paper, inspired by Mary Marshall of Meadows Law and former solicitor to the Alberta Ombudsman, and written by Alberta Ombudsman staffer Daniel Johns, was co-presented by the trio in recognition of the conference focus: Giving Voice to the Voiceless.
Published on the IOI’s website in February 2021, “Giving Voice to Mental Health Patients” describes how Ombudsman institutions can design investigations that protect the rights and interests of disadvantaged groups. It also argues that today’s Ombudsman need to adopt a proactive approach by seeking opportunities to look at the needs of groups who otherwise might remain voiceless.
For example, a 2019 report by the Alberta Ombudsman following an Own Motion investigation posed several recommendations to Mental Health Review Panels—all were accepted for implementation. The goal of the investigation was to ensure that provincial policy and law protecting a patient’s legal rights were recognized and respected. Protecting these rights ensure a vulnerable individual has a voice.
Mental health distress is a global issue affecting people of all walks of life. Despite its prevalence, people living with mental health issues continue to battle stigma associated with their conditions. Patients in psychiatric facilities on an involuntary basis are very vulnerable from many different perspectives, and even more so due to concerns around the spread of COVID-19 in congregate settings.
Patients with mental health issues do not always have the ability or the resources to advocate for themselves or insist on their legal rights. Although legislation in most jurisdictions carefully sets out checks and balances to make sure that a patient’s legal rights are protected, the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction should provide a meaningful opportunity to receive and review complaints about compliance with those legal requirements. The Ombudsman can provide patients, families and others with the reassurance that there is oversight for this vulnerable and often stigmatized population.
Also appearing in the IOI workshop panel were Jay Chalke, British Columbia Ombudsperson and Charles Murray, New Brunswick Ombud. The other provinces also reported on investigations into mental health issues. Full reports on those investigations are available at the links below:
To view the Alberta Ombudsman’s video submission at the IOI’s virtual conference, please visit us on YouTube here.