On Nov 28, 2013, the Toronto Star reported that Ellen Richardson, who had paid $6,000 for her March of Dimes cruise, was denied entry to the US because she had been hospitalized for depression in 2012.
The border agent told her that he was acting in accordance with the United State Immigration and Nationality Act Section 212. The act allows border agents to deny entry for persons with physical or mental disorder(s) that threatens anyone’s property, safety or welfare.
The solution offered to Ms Richardson was to get medical clearance from one of three Toronto doctors approved by Homeland Security.
This case is not unusual. There are many other instances of Canadians with mental health problems being denied entry to the US.
The question is how did Ms Richardson’s health information become known to the border agents. Did the Canadian healthcare authorities release this information to Homeland Security?
The information about Ms Richardson’s mental health problem became available to the border agents because the police were involved when she made a suicide attempt that lead to a 911 call. It was likely police data that had been shared. However, the hospitalization in 2012 did not involve the police. How did that health information get to the border agents?
Studies show that people in treatment for mental health problems do not have a higher rate of violence than people without mental illness. Furthermore, as the New York Times article ( Dec 8, 2013- Shameful Profiling Of The Mentally Ill by Andrew Solomon) notes, one in ten American adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suffers from depression.
Stigmatizing the treatment of mental illness is unjust. People who have been treated are much more likely to be in control of their impulses than those who have not been treated.
The end result will be that persons with mental illness will not seek treatment.
Ms Richardson who attempted suicide in 2011 has had appropriate treatment. She now leads a fulfilling and purposeful life; however, she is not able to enter the US to take the Caribbean cruise that she had planned and paid for.
Bottom line: a person with a mental illness should agree to treatment to avoid the 911 call. Families should be made aware of the issue with the border agents and the sharing of police data, so that they can, hopefully, convince family members to enter treatment willingly and avoid the 911 call.