Discharges and Releases under the Mental Health Act

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The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide general information on a wide variety of legal issues in the Province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation.

This topic will discuss the discharge or release of a patient committed to a mental health institution under the Mental Health Act.

If the patient is at the mental health institution voluntarily, then they may leave anytime. The patient, including their guardian or other decision-maker, should have been notified that they are at the hospital on a voluntary basis.

If a person has been committed to a mental health institution, a doctor’s certificate has been issued on the following criteria:

  • That the person suffers from a mental disorder, and is in a condition to present a threat to themselves or to others, and
  • Is not suitable for another place of care.

When a patient no longer meets the above criteria, the doctor may cancel the certificates. The doctor’s certificates are also cancelled when the certificates expire, and are not renewed. The certificates must be cancelled before the person (the formal patient) can be released from the mental health institution.

You may want to contact the mental health patient Advocate who will investigate all complaints about admissions and treatments of committed patients. The mental health patient advocate is appointed by the Lieutenant Governor in Council to assist in looking after the rights of all formal patients in the province.

A patient, their guardian, or any other person may also apply to have the certificates cancelled by sending a notice of application to the review panel. The review panel of the hospital will review the application to see whether the patient should be released. The Review Panel consists of a chairperson, psychiatrist, doctor, and a member of the public. Notice of the hearing must be sent out to the patient, their guardian, or nearest living relative.

If there has been no application for review after 6 months, a review will be automatically heard by the panel to see if the patient should be released. If there is no major change in the patient’s circumstances then the panel will not hear the application.

If you were in jail, and sent to a mental health institution for assessment and treatment, you may also apply to the review panel for an Order to transfer you back to jail.

The panel must make their decision within 24 hours of the hearing, and notify the patient, the guardian or other decision-maker. If the panel refuses to cancel the certificate, the reasons for the decision must be provided. The only valid reason for keeping a person confined to the mental health institution as a formal patient is that they continue to suffer from a mental disorder, and are in a condition to present a danger to themselves or others, and it is in their best interests to remain for treatment.

The decision must also include a statement that tells the patient, their guardian, or nearest relative that they have a right to appeal the decision to the Court of Queen’s Bench.