Health Justice: Why Tackling Mental Health Stigma Should Start with Policy Change
Illustration by Scott Knowles Design
At the root of most community challenges you’ll find a system that needs work. That’s why Vancouver Foundation is committed to address the behaviors, routines, authority, and beliefs that contribute to the vibrancy and inclusion of communities across BC. Each year we fund a number of organizations working to change systems for the better. One example is Health Justice, a non-profit looking to improve the laws and policies that govern coercive healthcare in BC. Coercive healthcare is when the power to make decisions about one’s own healthcare is taken away or limited by laws or policies.
Modernizing the Mental Health Act
Health Justice is working to change the Mental Health Act which currently authorizes the healthcare system to detain, discipline, and administer psychiatric treatment without a person’s consent.
“One of the things we identified is that many parts of the Act are very similar to when they were first passed in 1964. The way we understand and treat mental health from a social perspective has changed dramatically,” explains Kendra Milne, co-founder and executive director of Health Justice. “Laws need to keep pace with social perspectives, best practices, and human rights. Our ability to make healthcare decisions is core to our dignity.”
Coercive mental healthcare is often experienced by people who already face systemic and institutional barriers including people with disabilities, Indigenous and racialized people, and people living in poverty. This can create trauma and distrust in health care providers, which can lead to worse health outcomes.
Advancing Change from Different Sides
Health Justice aims to tackle this issue by taking both a top-down and bottom-up approach. “The health care system tends to be a bit of a telephone game between the top and the frontline,” explains Milne. “The gap is often too big and so those with power to change the law don’t understand how the law is being implemented.”
Their top-down approach is aimed at engaging