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A new interactive report wants you to look at mental health and the justice system differently

A new interactive report on mental health and its connection to the criminal justice system wants you to think of the issue as a shared societal problem.

'We have a responsibility to serve these people because they deserve better from us'

'We need to start looking at doing things differently,' says Sara-Jane Berghammer, CEO of the John Howard Society of Sudbury. (Shutterstock)

The John Howard Society of Ontario has released a new report, it's calling Broken Record: The Continued Criminalization of Mental Health Issues.

The report, launched on Tuesday, has been released as an online interactive, with the aim of shedding light on just how easy it could be for a person struggling with mental health challenges to end up in Ontario's criminal justice system. 

Sara-Jane Berghammer, the CEO of the society's Sudbury chapter said the interactive is a follow-up to the organization's previous report called Unlocking Change, released in 2015. 

The hope, she said, is to renew the conversation around the criminalization of people struggling with unmanaged mental health issues. 

"We need to start looking at doing things differently," Berghammer said.

'It isn't your problem'

"Many people who have mental health issues, continue to have mental health issues because their needs are not being met and there are repercussions to having folks that have mental health issues involved in the justice system when they don't necessarily have to be."

The online interactive begins by inviting audiences to imagine what is likely a familiar scenario:

"You're on your lunch break, when you hear yelling. You're curious, so you look. You see someone who is angry, confused and clearly not well. You keep walking. It isn't your problem."  

People who have mental health issues can get better and they can become healthier and more productive people in society.— Sara-Jane Berghammer, John Howard Society of Sudbury

What follows is a series of interactive timelines and sobering statistics on the current situation revolving around mental health challenges and the criminal justice system. For instance, the interactive asks readers, "Did you know almost half of all Canadians will have at least one serious mental health issue by the time they are 40?" 

The report also found that most people experiencing mental illness who become involved with the criminal justice system are charged with public nuisance offences that are related to their symptoms. The criminal justice system, according to the report, is just not equipped to handle mental health challenges. 

Recommendations 

The interactive also puts forward five recommendations for actionable change, including employing creative problem solving to tackle the issue like increased training for health professionals to be able to appropriately deal with mental health crises, pre-screening offenders for mental health issues before charges are laid and pre-planning for inmates scheduled for release, so they are set up for success after incarceration. 

For Berghammer, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of mental health to the forefront. The time for change, she said, is now. 

"We don't want to forget that people who have mental health issues can get better and they can become healthier and more productive people in society," Berghammer said.

"It's all in the approach — it's all in our approach. And we have a responsibility to serve these people because they deserve better from us." 

How many missteps or scenarios gone wrong does it take, to find yourself on the wrong side of the law? A new report is hoping to show you just how easy it could be if you're dealing with mental health challenges. The report comes from the John Howard Society of Ontario. We spoke about the issue with Sara-Jane Berghammer, the CEO of the society's Sudbury chapter. 7:08

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