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The Forensic Mental Health System in Ontario: An Information Guide Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Family, Friends and the Forensic Mental Health System

The Forensic Mental Health System in Ontario: An Information Guide

On this page:

If someone in your family or your circle of friends has a mental illness, you may have already gone through a lot of distress. It is even harder when that person comes into conflict with the law. You may have made the painful decision to call the police yourself, when you saw someone you love doing something wrong or frightening.

Why does it seem so hard to get help?

People who have a mental illness often do not know that they are ill. You may have already tried to get your loved one to go into a hospital or see a doctor, without success.

Sometimes people call the police, hoping that this is a way to get help. If the police believe that there has been a crime, they must act. That does not always mean that your loved one will go to the hospital and get treated.

In Canada, the people who report a possible crime do not press charges themselves, even if they are the victims. It is the police who press charges. Once you call the police, you cannot say that you want to "press charges" or "drop charges."

The rules in the Criminal Code of Canada and the Mental Health Act may seem frustrating at times. However, they are meant to protect the rights and freedoms of all people, including people who have a mental illness. Sometimes family and friends do not want the same thing as the person with the mental illness. The mental health system can only force people to be hospitalized in extreme cases, usually when people are a threat to themselves or to public safety.

Supporting someone in the forensic mental health system

When a friend or loved one has to go to jail or the hospital, you can be left with mixed emotions—fear, guilt, anger, frustration, relief. All of these feelings are normal.

You have to decide how much support you are willing or able to give. Talk to the psychiatrist or social worker about the different ways you can support your loved one.

Look after yourself. Some people find it helps to talk to a family doctor, a psychologist or psychiatrist, a spiritual counsellor or a trusted friend.

Some hospitals have services that help the family and friends of patients to get information and support. Also, look in local newspapers, on bulletin boards and on the Internet for groups in your community.

Visiting a jail or hospital

Visiting someone in jail or on the forensic unit of a hospital is easier if you know what to expect.

Call the jail or hospital unit ahead of time. Find out:

  • the visiting hours
  • the rules about bringing gifts like food, cigarettes, money or clothing
  • the rules for bringing children
  • anything else you need to know before you visit.

A forensic unit in a hospital has many of the same rules for security as a jail does. In both the jail and the hospital, your bags or clothing will be searched. You will have to show photo identification before being allowed to visit.

Seeing someone in a jail or the forensic unit of a hospital can be upsetting. Your loved one may be experiencing symptoms of mental illness. Or the person may be sedated (sleepy or sluggish because of medication). Your loved one may be staying on a unit where other people are very mentally or physically ill. Knowing what to expect will make your visit easier.

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



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
Ten offices across Ontario