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David Baxter

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Powerless to help daughter
By ANDREW HANON, Edmonton Sun
Mon, August 27, 2007

Grant sounds exhausted but relieved. He'd been up late the night before, combing the streets of Stony Plain and Spruce Grove in search of his 25-year-old daughter.

"She's at home again. She's safe, sound and asleep," he says wearily.

It's a scenario Grant, who has asked that his last name not be used in order to protect his daughter's privacy, has become all too familiar with.

Candice (not her real name) started acting increasingly irrational in her mid-teens, slowly withdrawing from everything and everyone that she used to hold dear.

At first, her parents assumed it was typically adolescent angst and rebellion. After all, alienation and depression have almost become stylish in youth culture - witness the emo and goth movements. But, as she continued her downward spiral, they began to grow alarmed.

Doctors confirmed their initial assumption - she'll get over it as she matures. Be patient.

But Candice didn't get any better.

It continued for a couple of years before she was finally diagnosed with schizophrenia, but by that time she had already plunged into drug abuse and would vanish for days at a time.

"I've been dealing with this for years," says Grant, whose sister is also schizophrenic. With his daughter, he's endured countless sleepless nights, desperately trying to figure out where Candice has disappeared to, and waiting on tenterhooks for the teary phone call and plea to come get her.

"It's what she's always done," he explains. "It's quite typical of people in that situation. When the paranoia sets in, it's the only way she feels that she can cope. She just has to get out."

When Candice refuses to take her medication, Grant is powerless to do anything about it. She is an adult, so he can't force her. In fact, he can't even get doctors to discuss her case with him, because that would be a violation of her privacy.

At one point he thought about going to court to be declared her guardian under the Dependent Adults Act, but dismissed that notion when he recalled his father's nightmare after doing the same with Grant's sister.

Unscrupulous salesmen would prey on her, landlords would lease apartments to her, and Grant's dad would be left holding the bag. Once, she got approved for financing to buy a brand new truck, and it cost Grant's father $2,500 to extricate himself from the contract.

Abuse
Grant says he understands the cries of groups like Elder Advocates of Alberta, which last week called for a public inquiry into the powers that doctors possess for declaring seniors mentally incompetent, and agrees that the system is open to abuse.

But the laws don't seem to be working for his family, which is struggling to keep Candice safe when she needs protection, while at same time trying to allow her as much freedom and autonomy as the situation permits.

Grant dismisses the notion of locking her away in an institution as a non-starter. Candice is no danger to anyone else, and most of the time is not even a threat to herself.

He muses that perhaps there should be separate legislation for seniors and other people with mental illnesses who need to be under the guardianship of someone else.

He points to the number of mentally ill people who end up living on the streets because they're unable to cope with everyday life.

Agencies such as the Bissell Centre estimate that more than one-third of the people they deal with suffer from some sort of mental illness.

"We've really got to start talking about this as a society," Grant says. "Pretty soon this is going to become a high-priority issue, whether we want it to or not."
 

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