New NWT Mental Health Act aims to expand patients' rights

The territory has finished writing the regulations for the 2015 law, which is expected to come into effect this year.

A new review board will be established and patients can get care in own communities

Patricia Kyle is the assistant deputy minister for families and communities with the N.W.T.'s department of health. (Alyssa Mosher/CBC)

In the last four months of 2017, 59 people were admitted involuntarily to mental health care in the Northwest Territories, and so far in 2018 there have already been 17.

For any of those people to get out of that care without their doctor's approval, they currently have to appeal to the territorial Supreme Court. 

A new law will change that. 

The new Mental Health Act is coming into force this year, with the regulations that will guide how it is implemented on the ground now complete. The Act was passed into law in 2015, but has yet to take effect.

It establishes a review board that has the power to overturn doctors' decisions on mental health care, making it easier for patients to appeal their status. 

"For individuals who have questions or concerns about the care and treatment they're receiving, they can go to the Mental Health Review Board to have any decisions around that care and treatment reviewed," says Patricia Kyle, assistant deputy minister for families and communities.

The new law also makes it easier for involuntary patients — currently treated in Yellowknife — to get that care in their own communities.

The regulations have not yet been posted publicly, and it is unclear exactly what additional supports will be available in the communities, but the new territorial budget released Thursday increases the funding for community mental health and addictions by over $1.1 million.