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Home may be best place for man with Campbell River man with mental health issues

After spending a good part of the year behind bars, a young man with mental health and addiction issues is going home for the holidays.

Tyler Steinthorson, 23, was released from custody Monday after spending the last two months at the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre in Victoria – a place where he’s resided often in 2013.

“It’s really a mental health problem that hasn’t been dealt with very well by the court system. That’s all I can say,” said Judge Justine Saunders in Campbell River provincial court.

After pleading guilty to one count of violating terms of his probation, Steinthorson was released, largely due to the support of his mother Rhonda Johnson and a new regime of medication.

“In the last two months it almost sounds like the old Ty,” Johnson told the judge on Monday.

The last few years have been a nightmare for Johnson and her younger teenage son as Steinthorson’s mental health regressed. He stopped taking his medication and started binge drinking alcohol and cough syrup. This resulted in several violent episodes – particularly with police – and unpredictable behaviours.

“It’s pretty much destroyed our whole family,” said Johnson.

She’s been advocating to get her son into longer-term psychiatric care because, up until recently, nothing seemed to help. Twice, in the last six months, Steinthorson was released from jail, but arrested the next day after consuming dangerous amounts of cough syrup. During an incident in August, he almost died from an overdose of cough syrup and then on Oct. 16, the same thing occurred.

Johnson had called Campbell River RCMP to report that her son was high on cough syrup and when two officers went to arrest him, a struggle ensued as they attempted to handcuff Steinthorson. He violently kicked at the officers who eventually used pepper spray in an attempt to subdue him.

The incident was strikingly similar to a June incident in downtown Campbell River where six officers were needed to corral a thrashing Steinthorson.

“Mr. Steinthorson (is) a very frightening individual when he’s unmedicated and using poly-substances,” said Crown prosecutor Adrienne Venturini during an Oct. 21 bail hearing.

However, during the last two months in Victoria, Steinthorson has been given new medication which appears to be helping; he’s diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and possibly bi-polar disorder.

Even the jail’s psychiatric nurse noted in her report that Steinthorson did “reasonably well” during his recent stint and was only placed in segregation once for fighting with a cellmate; typically, most of Steinthorson’s jail time is spent in segregation due to violent behaviour. Now that he’s out of jail, and appears to be stable, the plan is to get Steinthorson further help and community support. Johnson’s hope is for her son to live independently, but she knows he needs round-the-clock monitoring and support in the short-term. B.C.’s mental health agencies don’t offer that so her solution is to bring him back home.

“The only hope for Tyler to stand any kind of a chance is to come home,” she told the judge. “He knows I have strict rules and I’m the first to call RCMP when he’s using.”

Steinthorson will be living in Courtenay which takes him away from “bad influences” in Campbell River. Judge Saunders agreed with the plan and gave Steinthorson one-day in jail – time served – and urged him to get help, reconnect with his family and to “get back into society.”

She admitted that it’s “very difficult” when the judicial system is forced to deal with people who are committing crimes largely due to mental health issues and she asked Steinthorson how he was doing.

“I’m feeling better…(and) I’m happily going to NA (Narcotics Anonymous),” he replied.

Steinthorson is bound by an 18-month probation order to keep the peace and not consume any intoxicating substances.

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