Mental Health Issues as prejudice arising during separation and divorce

It is well known that divorce is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, if not the most stressful, closely followed by death of a spouse and or death of a child. Not surprisingly, stressful situations exacerbate and possibly cause latent health issues to come to the surface, think “War of the Roses‘. Unfortunately, in family law, with some former spouses and lawyers taking the “all is fair in love and war” approach, any hint of depression or other mental health issue can be waived around in ‘with prejudice’ letters, or worse, affidavits, expressing safety concerns for the children citing an unbalanced or ‘sick’ other parent. It is sad and most of the time wholly inappropriate.

I read a fantastic article today in UBC Trek Magazine about a UBC Grad, Michael Schratter, (BSC 1996, BEd 1999, MEd 2007), a Vancouver teacher, who cycled around the world promoting his “RIDE DON’T HIDE” campaign to raise awareness for mental health issues. “What kind of person would bicycle around the world yelling that he is crazy? A crazy person would” he writes. You can read more about him here: Diagnosed as bipolar, he says that of all of his roles in life – teacher, Canadian Jew, part time journalist, fiance, brother and son – it is the label of mental health issues that carries the most weight.

In my family law practice I often meet clients who are nervous about telling me they are seeing a counsellor or taking anti-depressants to help cope with the stress. They are embarrassed about seeking help and worried that if the other party finds out, they will be seen as weak, and in the case of a parent, unable to care for their children. While I am certainly not advocating children being left in the care of a person who is either permanently or temporarily unable to care for themselves or a child, I do think we need to be mindful and careful about labelling persons with mental illness and using their wise choice to seek help, as fodder for affidavits.

my two cents.