An advocate wants professionals to better inform supportive family members when treating adults with mental illnesses.

A B.C. Coroners Service inquest began yesterday into the deaths of three patients who died by suicide within a short time after of leaving the same psychiatric ward.

The jury heard from Lorraine Johnson, the mother of patient Brian Geishemier, who said there was nothing she and her husband could do for their son because although he was committed to the psychiatric unit and considered high risk, he was an adult and only he could make decisions about his treatment.

Ana Novakovic with the B.C. Schizophrenia Society, told CBC's The Early Edition this is a common concern for families.

"The family is often excluded from that process [of making decisions about care], and what often results is the individual being discharged from the hospital without having a very concrete plan, without family involvement ... There are a number of serious situations and tragedies that can result in that kind of scenario."

Another complication is patients suffering from schizophrenia might have delusions about family members which they share with their health workers, Novakovic explained.

Barb McLintock, a spokesperson for the B.C. Coroners Service, said notifying parents and family about care decisions is a complicated issue.

"If a patient is an adult, for example, and says I don't want my family contacted ... does the patient's rights prevail at that point, or should the families still be involved?" she said.

Power exists, but infrequently used

Novakovic agreed with this, but pointed out a bulletin issued by the Ministry of Health in 1998  says information can be shared with family members if a health professional believes it will help the client — even if it's against the will of the patient.

"A lot of health professionals are unaware of that document and their right to share that information or for any number of reasons, they're not able to follow that," she said.

Similar recommendations have come out of previous inquests, but Novakovic said there doesn't seem to be follow-through.

"We do see a lot of repetition, especially around certain issues. In that sense, it is a little bit frustrating."

Nevertheless, she said she'll be following the current inquest closely, and hopes the recommendations that come out of it will provide some recourse for families.

"It does spark conversation among these agencies, organizations like ours and community members on what we can do to improve."    

With files from The Early Edition


To hear the interview, click on the link labelled How involved should parents be in the healthcare of their mentally ill adult children?