Chapter 7: Serious Mental Illness and the Law

Additional Recommended Readings

Snow, N. and W.J. Austin (2009). Community treatment orders: the ethical balancing act in community mental health. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 16, 177–186. Retrieved from

This article defines and describes Community Treatment Orders (CTOs) and considers the ethical and practical implications of the use of CTOs, primarily from a Canadian perspective. Human rights, the ethical principles of autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice, and relationship ethics are applied in considering the ethical implications of CTOs.

Rueve, M.E. and S.W. Randon (2008). Violence and Mental Illness. Psychiatry, 5(5), 34–47. Retrieved from

This article reviews the literature available to address the question “Are violence and mental illness synonymous, connected, or just coincidental phenomena?” and to investigate the etiology of violence, comorbidities, risk factor management and treatment of violent and aggressive behaviours.

Relevant Legislation



British Columbia:


New Brunswick:

Newfoundland and Labrador:

Nova Scotia:

  • Hospitals Act, S.N.S. 1989, c. 208
  • Incompetent Persons Act, R.S.N.S. 1989, c. 218
  • Involuntary Psychiatric Treatment Act, S.N.S.2005, c. 42
  • Mental Health Court Act, S.N.S., 2007


Prince Edward Island:



Northwest Territories:


Yukon Territory:

Discussion Questions

  1. How do politics and law intersect with respect to mental health legislation?
  2. What are the general grounds by which individuals can be put into hospital against their will? How do these grounds balance the rights of the patient, the family, and society?
  3. How do issues of consent to treatment intersect with social work values and ethics?
  4. What are the positive and negative aspects of community treatment orders?
  5. What alternatives could a social worker seek for a client with a mental disorder who commits a crime?