Douglas College helping to raise awareness about mental health

Douglas College Criminology instructor Heidi Currie will talk
during an upcoming event in Coquitlam about mental health.

Douglas College, Coquitlam Public Library and the City of Coquitlam are holding a series of exhibits and presentations to encourage community discussion about mental health. A Journey in Mental Health Care takes place in at the library’s City Centre Branch May 4-8, coinciding with Mental Health Week.

As part of the event, Douglas College Criminology instructor Heidi Currie will deliver a talk on the intersection of mental health needs and criminal justice. We interviewed Heidi to learn more about the event and issues around mental health.

What do you hope the A Journey in Mental Health Care event accomplishes?

The event title captures it so well – we are inviting the public to learn more about the journey we have made in mental health care, from the earliest days of hospital care at Riverview to contemplation of the future of psychiatric care. I am really proud of the City of Coquitlam as the new trustees of the artifacts from Riverview Hospital for investing in an event that invites public access and promotes discussion on mental health – where we were, and what the issues and needs continue to be.

What work have you done related to mental health?

My primary academic interest has been in mental health and the justice system. One of the most profound failings in mental health care following deinstitutionalization has been the very high rate of criminalization of persons with mental health needs into correctional facilities. In addition, we see the extraordinary use of valuable police resources in the management of disruptive mentally disordered persons in the community. I don’t accept a position that advocates that the “best place” for a mentally disordered person who commits a crime is in prison. My experience in the justice system has taught me that the best place for a person with mental health needs is in a compassionate health care environment, whether that be via progressive community care or in hospital.

What topics will you cover during your talk?

My session will address the intersection of mental health and criminal justice from a number of aspects – policing, the courts, and corrections. But this is just part of the discussion I hope to have with attendees; I’d like to explore with the public why we have left so much of the work of mental health care to legal interventions and processes – rather than in health care and medicine. It’s an increasingly important discussion to have. I have invited other professionals to attend the session with me, and I hope we can all have an informative discussion together.

A feature of A Journey in Mental Health Care is the Riverview Hospital artifacts exhibit. Why is this exhibit important?

I expect that people will have a natural curiosity as to the early interventions and treatments undertaken in hospital. It is one thing to read about the past, another to see it. So, although the artifacts will be out of context in that they are not being viewed in the hospital environment, there is great value in viewing these items first hand; from uniforms to hospital implements and technology as it was. I am hopeful that this exhibit will foster a less cynical and better informed understanding of the necessity and intent in mental health care of the past, and how we might engage in future management of mental health needs in our community.

Heidi’s talk takes place Thursday, May 7 at 7pm at the City Centre Branch of the Coquitlam Public Library, 1169 Pinetree Way, Coquitlam The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit

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