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Introduction

The Forensic Mental Health System in Ontario: An Information Guide

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Introduction

This guide will help you learn about the forensic mental health system in Ontario. If you, or someone you know, has a mental illness and has come into contact with the law, you should read this guide.

What is the forensic mental health system?

The mental health system is the network of people and services that care for people with mental illness. The criminal justice system includes the courts, the institutions and the professionals that deal with people accused or convicted of crimes. If you have a mental illness and you come into contact with the law, you could become involved with the forensic mental health system.

In this guide, "forensic" means "connected to the law or the courts." "Mental illness" is a very broad term that can mean many things. People who have symptoms of a mental illness sometimes have trouble knowing what is real. Sometimes they hear or see things that other people don't hear or see. Sometimes they have thoughts or beliefs that are not logical or true, but they can't stop thinking about them. Some people have what is called a "dual diagnosis." This refers to a person who has both a mental illness and an intellectual disability (also known as a "developmental delay" or "mental retardation"). Both people with a mental illness alone and people with a dual diagnosis can enter the forensic mental health system.

People who have a mental illness and who come into contact with the law have special needs. The mental health system or the criminal justice system alone cannot always meet those needs. The forensic mental health system is the place where the mental health system and the criminal justice system meet.

The forensic mental health system can be confusing and frightening for people who have a mental illness. The legal system can be intimidating. Your freedom may be limited. It may be hard to understand why so many people suddenly become so involved in your life. These people may include police, lawyers, judges, doctors and members of review boards. This book is designed to help you understand what is happening.

How to use this Guide

The forensic mental health system is very complex. You may have to read parts of this guide a few times. As you move through the different stages of the system, certain parts of this guide will make more sense or become more important for you.

The guide explains:

  • what the forensic mental health system is
  • who is involved
  • what happens once you are in the system
  • what happens when you leave the system.

In this guide, the word "family" refers to relatives, partners, friends or anyone who cares about a person, no matter what the actual relationship is.

Words printed in bold type are explained in a glossary at the back of the guide.

Where to go for more information

You may have questions about the forensic mental health system that this guide does not answer. If so, check the list of resources at the back of this booklet.

This guide is not a legal text and does not replace the expertise of a lawyer. The goal of this guide is simply to describe the way the forensic mental health system typically works in Ontario. If you have more questions about the legal system, talk to a lawyer.

You can also talk to a psychiatrist, social worker or nurse if you do not understand what is happening to you in the forensic mental health system.

Why do we have a forensic mental health system?

Society believes it is unfair to punish people for a criminal act if people have a mental illness that:

  • prevents them from understanding what they have done, or
  • prevents them from realizing what the result of their actions will be.

The restrictions and rules of the forensic mental health system may be hard to get used to, but the main goal is rehabilitation. This means improving your mental health and helping you to live successfully in the community.

The role of the forensic mental health system is not to punish. It is to help rehabilitate and reintegrate people into the community.

Myths about mental illness

There is a myth that all people with mental illness are dangerous or violent. This is not true. Mental illness is like physical illness—it can affect anybody. Some people with mental illness can be violent. So can people who do not have mental illness.

Only some people in the forensic mental health system are there because they have been violent. Many non-violent offences also bring people into the forensic mental health system. These offences may include mischief, theft or drug use. Those who have committed a violent offence often did so when they were ill. They may not have understood what they were doing or what would happen as a result.

People who are mentally ill have to live with many negative ideas that others have about them. These ideas are sometimes called "stigma." Stigma leads to discrimination, disrespect and much worse. People in the forensic mental health system feel they have a "double stigma" when others unfairly label them "dangerous."

The people who work in the forensic mental health system know about the problem of stigma. They are committed to treating everyone with respect and dignity.

Not everyone in the forensic mental health system has done something violent. Even those who have been violent deserve care and support.

The Forensic Mental Health System in Ontario: An Information Guide

  1. Introduction
  2. Who works in the forensic mental health system?
  3. What happens inside the forensic mental health system?
  4. The Ontario Review Board (ORB)
  5. Accepting or refusing treatment in the forensic mental health system
  6. Living in a forensic mental health setting
  7. Family, friends and the forensic mental health system
  8. Leaving the forensic mental health system

Conclusion

Glossary

Where to go for more information

CAMH Switchboard 416-535-8501
CAMH General Information Toronto: 416-595-6111 Toll Free: 1-800-463-6273
Connex Ontario Help Lines
Queen St.
1001 Queen St. W
Toronto, ON
M6J 1H4
Russell St.
33 Russell St.
Toronto, ON
M5S 2S1
College St.
250 College St.
Toronto, ON
M5T 1R8
Nine offices across Ontario