As a nurse in my province (British Columbia, Canada), if I am hospitalized for mental illness then the provincial Health Professions Act requires the hospital to report me to the nursing regulatory college, and the college must treat this as a complaint about my fitness to practice. This ends up with being offering the non-choice to either give up my practicing license or have the college take it away. There’s more in this in the post Legislated Stigma.
Clearly this is stigma in action. I tried to pursue this issue back in 2013, after my last hospitalization and the temporary loss of my practicing nursing license as a result. I was in grad school at the time and one of the things we’d covered was policy briefs, so I wrote up a policy brief and sent it to government and whoever I thought might listen. A couple of organizations expressed some interest, but in never went anywhere. My nursing professional association and my union didn’t even bother to reply.
I couple of days ago I saw a news story that said the government was calling for public submissions, as they’re reviewing the Health Professions Act after the damning results of a commissioned review looking into one of the regulatory colleges. The story said they haven’t gotten many submissions yet, and the deadline is the end of this week. So hey, might as well give it another try. Here’s the email I wrote to them.
To the Minister of Health:
I am writing regarding a particular section of the Health Professions Act that I believe should be changed as part of the current review of the Act, regardless of whether it is revised or rewritten.
Under section 32(3) of the Act, there is a requirement to notify the appropriate professional college any time that a regulated health professional is hospitalized for mental illness or a substance use disorder. The college must then treat this is a “complaint” about an individual’s fitness to practice.
In the attached document I have outlined a number of concerns at greater length, but I’ll briefly present them here:
- To treat mental and physical illnesses differently as a matter of course, and to make judgments about an individual based on whether their illness is mental or physical, is blatantly discriminatory.
- Section 33(4) of the Act already addresses the handling of concerns about a registrant’s fitness to practice regardless of the reason for the impairment.
- No other province in Canada has mandated reporting based solely on hospitalization. Most provinces make no specific mention of mental disorders in terms of fitness to practice concerns.
- The provision in section 32(3) promotes and perpetuates stigma against mental illness.
- Health professionals hospitalized for mental illness are afforded a lesser degree of confidentiality compared to health professionals hospitalized for any other reasons.
- This mandatory reporting requirement poses a significant deterrent for health professionals with mental illness to seek out mental health care services. In turn, this poses significant risk of harm to health professionals with untreated or under-treated illness. In the end, this poses a far greater risk of harm to the public.
I hope the Ministry of Health will take advantage of the current review of the Health Professions Act to remove this regressive, discriminatory section. Health professionals like myself living with mental illness, along with all British Columbians, deserve better.
Stigma Enshrined in Law: An Open Letter to BC’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions is a follow-up to this post.
You can find more on mental illness stigma on the Stop the Stigma page.
A Brief History of Stigma is the upcoming new release from Mental Health @ Home Books. It looks at the nature of stigma, the contexts in which it occurs, and how to challenge it most effectively.
Visit the book page for tips on how to be an effective advocate.