December 10, 2010

Fitness to Practice: Pre-existing mental health condition at the time of application

Administrative Law
Professional Regulation

In our previous blog entry on fitness to practice, we addressed pre-membership misconduct as a potential bar to admission. In this entry, we consider existing mental health conditions that may affect the ability of an applicant to practice. This can be a very difficult issue for regulators to address given that mental health conditions which negatively affect professional practice can lay dormant for long periods and then without notice become active with very serious consequences. The factors for a fitness committee to consider in determining whether an applicant has the mental fitness for membership include the nature of the mental health condition, the history of the activity of the condition, the medical treatment regime being maintained or not maintained, the awareness of the applicant of her or his condition and her or his foresight in planning for negative consequences of the condition, and the severity of negative consequences to the public served by the professional.

One example of a consideration of a number of these factors is in an unpublished case concerning a teacher. The issue of fitness with respect to an applicant’s mental health was addressed by a Fitness Hearing Panel of the BC College of Teachers. The applicant had previously been a member of a teaching association in Ontario and had been employed in his capacity as a teacher for a number of years. When the applicant applied for certification with the College, the application was referred to the Panel as the applicant suffered from depression, for which treatment had been previously sought. However, the applicant informed the Panel that the applicant was not taking any treatments currently, was managing the condition independently, and, though the applicant admitted to feeling sad at times, it did not affect the applicant’s ability to work or teach.

The Panel concluded the applicant was not a threat to anyone and was managing the depression issues and associated health concerns. The Panel also found the applicant’s mental health had not affected the applicant’s ability to work as a teacher in the past and the dismissal from the applicant’s most recent teaching position in Ontario was attributable to difficult circumstances that were not illustrative of the applicant’s ability to teach. Conclusively, the Panel held the applicant was fit to be granted membership regardless of the applicant’s mental health and issues surrounding depression.