A Relative Has Been Held against Their Will in a Mental Health Facility

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A person may be detained against their will in a mental health facility for up to 48 hours if a physician examines the person and signs a certificate. The certificate must say that the person is suffering from a mental disorder and needs treatment, care, supervision and control by a mental health facility to prevent that person's substantial mental or physical deterioration or for the protection of that person or others.

If a second physician signs a similar certificate, the person may be detained against their will for up to one month.

First steps[edit]

  1. If you have a relative who has been involuntarily detained in a mental health facility, you should immediately call the facility — usually a hospital in your area. If you don’t know which facility it is, contact your local Health Authority (see the BC Health Authorities listing on the Ministry of Health website, or the Blue Pages of the phone book). Let the facility know what support you are able to provide to your relative, and ask if and when they are planning to release them.
  2. As soon as is practicable, your relative should be notified of their rights under the Mental Health Act. They should be given a Form 13, Notification to Involuntary Patient of Rights under the Mental Health Act. Your relative has the right to know the reasons for their detention. They have the right to have a copy of their medical certificate(s) unless the facility believes this information will cause serious harm to your relative or cause harm to others. Completion of the second medical certificate gives the facility the right to give treatment to your relative — including medication — even if your relative does not wish this.
  3. If your relative continues to be detained against their will for more than 48 hours, they — or you on their behalf — may request a hearing by a mental health Review Panel. The Review Panel is free of charge. This is an independent panel of three people, who will decide if the criteria for certification still exist. You, or your relative, may apply for the Review Panel by completing a Form 7, Application for Review Panel Hearing.
  4. Your relative is entitled to be represented by a lawyer or mental health advocate at a Review Panel hearing. You, or your relative, can also get information about representation at a Review Panel hearing through the Community Legal Assistance Society's Mental Health Law Program by calling 604-685-3425.

What happens next[edit]

Your relative's lawyer or advocate will prepare your relative for the Review Panel. If you would like to speak to the Review Panel, you may be a witness at it, or you may write a letter or speak to the panel via telephone. Speak with your relative’s lawyer or advocate about this possibility. You can help your relative by offering to provide support to them if they are discharged, and making this known to the Review Panel. Remember that the Review Panel wants to be sure that your relative's mental or physical condition will not substantially deteriorate and that your relative will not cause harm to themselves or others if discharged.

Review Panels are generally held in private. The panel will decide if the criteria for certification still exist. If so, your relative will be detained for a further period. If not, your relative will be discharged.

If your relative or you do not agree with the decision of a Review Panel, you can ask for a review of the decision by a Supreme Court judge. You will need advice from a lawyer if you want to do this.

Where to get help[edit]

See the Resource List in this Guide for a list of helpful resources. Your best bets are:

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Lisa Ferguson, April 2017.

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