Stop the Stigma

Stigma Enshrined in Law: An Open Letter to Government

Structural stigma: icons of where it occurs

An open letter to the Hon. Judy Darcy, British Columbia Minister of Mental Health and Addictions re. B.C.’s Health Professions Act

I’m writing to express my dismay that it appears that the Government of British Columbia does not intend to take advantage of the modernization of the Health Professions Act to remove section 32(3), which stigmatizes health professionals with a mental illness.

Section 32(3) reads:

Duty to report respecting hospitalized registrant

32.3   (1) If an other person is a registrant in a college prescribed by the minister for the purposes of this section and because of admission to a hospital or a private hospital as defined in the Hospital Act, for psychiatric care or treatment, or for treatment for addiction to alcohol or drugs the other person is unable to practise, the chief administrative officer of the hospital, or someone acting in that capacity, and the medical practitioner who has the care of the other person must promptly report the admission in writing to the registrar of the other person’s college.

(2)The medical practitioner who has care of the other person must, no later than the date of that other person’s discharge from the hospital, provide the registrar of the other person’s college with a written report of the diagnosis, particulars of treatment, prognosis and an opinion as to whether the other person is fit to continue to practise the other person’s health profession.

Making this kind of sweeping generalization, based not even on diagnosis but on an arbitrary distinction between mental and physical illness is archaic, absurd, and stigmatizing.  I would hope that it would be obvious to anyone with even passing knowledge of mental illness how wildly inappropriate it is to suggest that all health professionals hospitalized for psychiatric reasons pose a risk to the public across the board and no health professionals hospitalized for physical illnesses pose a risk to the public.

That kind of arbitrary distinction truly is the essence of stigma.  There are other provisions in the Act that cover reporting of health professionals who are impaired and do pose a risk.  There is absolutely no need to have section 32(3) tacked on to formally legislate stigma.
I’ve been a mental health nurse for 15 years.  I also have major depressive disorder.  On two of the occasions when I’ve been hospitalized, the hospital reported me to what was then the CRNBC.  I can speak from personal experience that section 32(3) acts as a significant deterrent to seeking treatment.  If I’m extremely depressed and suicidal and everything feels like a burden, why would I agree to hospitalization when that would create the massive burden of dealing with the College and facing the non-choice of giving up my practicing license or having it taken away, and all the hoop-jumping that goes along with that.  

Section 32(3) also establishes a different standard of privacy protection for health professionals with mental illness.  If I was admitted to hospital for a brain tumour, the hospital would not be mandated to report my personal medical information because I was admitted for a physical illness.  If I’m admitted for depression, I’m afforded no such right to privacy, and my College is informed of my diagnosis, particulars of treatment, and prognosis, regardless of whether or not I pose any actual risk to anybody but myself.

When the Government places barriers in place to seeking out mental health treatment for the sole purpose of enshrining stigma in law (since, as already mentioned, there are other provisions that protect the public from registrants who are impaired), it is putting the lives of health professionals in jeopardy.  I have been trying for years to get somebody, anybody, to listen in regards to this issue.  No one appears to care, because hey, who cares about crazy people, right?

Are you prepared to accept that provincial legislation perpetuates stigma?  And, more importantly, if a health professional dies by suicide because section 32(3) is just one more barrier to accessing care, are you prepared to have that blood on your hands?  

Regards, Ashley Peterson RN BSN MPN

This isn’t a new issue. I’ve been trying to raise a stink about the legislated stigma in the Health Professions Act for the last eight years or so. It seems like such a clearcut issue, yet no one’s interested in listening.

Currently, the provincial government is doing a massive overhaul of the Health Professions
Act. I emailed the Minister of Health last year when they were doing public consultation. I emailed the provincial nursing advocacy organization. Just recently, recommendations were released from the consultation process, but this issue was a non-starter. I was not impressed, although I also wasn’t surprised. So I fired off this email to the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions this morning.

I think there are a couple of reasons that no one cares. One is that nobody cares about crazy people. Another is that most health professionals who are also crazy people want to sweep that business under the rug. No one wants to lead the anti-stigma crazy person charge. So there’s me. I never particularly cared what people would think of me being crazy and loud, and at this point, it seems pretty certain that I’ll never be returning to work.

Instead, I’ll wave the crazy person anti-stigma banner, and that means going down the road of righteous anger rather than self-stigma, which is also a good thing.

Mental illness: Stop the stigma - graphic of face and megaphone with the words "speak up"

You can find more on mental illness stigma on the Stop the Stigma page.

A Brief History of Stigma: coming soon from Mental Health @ Home Books

18 thoughts on “Stigma Enshrined in Law: An Open Letter to Government”

  1. It’s great of you to speak up!! Your voice needs to be heard. That’s so unfair that it upsets me a great deal. You know what I’m going to say, though. “Come to America! Come to America!” Yeah, yeah, I know. You don’t really have to come here. But we do have similar problems. You know I was discriminated against when I wanted to work night shift on weekends at a local mental hospital. They were going to hire me until I filled out their health form. UGH. It’s not just unfair, it’s cruel and senseless. Keep speaking up and writing letters! Please!!

  2. Thank you for sharing this example of what all of us, US and Canadian citizens alike, need to be doing more of to help build ‘a more perfect Union.’

  3. I’ve known people, friends, colleagues who died by suicide because (partly I don’t know everything of course) but it is difficult enough to admit to a) yourself that you need help b) admit it it to other and then they want c) to give your work up?
    People suffer in silence. It’s very, very sad.

    One friend of mine was fired while she was in hospital due to major depression. She was given her letter of termination (?) while she was admitted into a hospital.

    She still works as a nurse but in a nursing home, the night shifts.

    It’s all too crazy.

    But we are the cray ones.

    1. I think it’s crazy to accept this world the way it is, but people keep telling me that I’m crazy. Oh, well. We can only keep bearing witness and striving to make change.

  4. I can see why you would want to bring this issue forward. This is truly stigmatizing and certainly could cause many to minimize their own emotional health. It leaves no room to be both a person and an informed professional. It clearly doesn’t respect privacy, and implies that to be a mental health provider who might also have an emotional health need( lessens one). I hope you keep bringing this forward. It is an important issue. Providers are also people and can struggle as any other person. Just as a heart surgeon could have a heart condition. It is non- sensible to anyone who understands treatment.

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