MSN Graduate Marina "Maja" Kolar

From MSN to MH Educator for Alum Maja Kolar

14 Aug 2019

Alumnus Marina (Maja) Kolar RPN, MSN (they/them) is the School of Nursing’s first Registered Psychiatric Nurse, Master of Science in Nursing graduate. They have recently submitted an article based on their Master’s research for publication in Critical Social Policy - SAGE Journals and are a recipient of the Canadian Nurses Foundation Lundbeck Scholarship and the Pauline Capelle Memorial Prize in Nursing. Moreover, they have just been given an extraordinary opportunity to assist with the implementation of some of the recommendations they made in their graduate thesis. St Paul’s Hospital recently hired Maja as a mental health educator with a portfolio for implementing specific aspects in relation to the ombudsperson’s recommendations in Committed to Change: Protecting the Rights of Involuntary Patients under the Mental Health Act.

To grasp the full importance of this appointment you will need a bit more of Maja’s background. As an undergrad studying sociology at Douglas College, Maja decided to pursue a career in psychiatric nursing when they began volunteering with women and youth experiencing homelessness. “I was concerned by structural issues of stigma, discrimination and ‘othering’ experienced by people with mental health and substance use issues, including how and why such patterns continue to be reproduced within institutions and social systems.” They were fascinated, perplexed, and determined to remove the obstacles that stand between health care and populations experiencing marginalization. They chose nursing. “Nurses are ideally positioned to challenge discourses and practices that compromise the human rights of people with mental health issues, entrenching social inequity,” Maja says.

However, as a student nurse, Maja experienced a dissonance between the message taught at nursing school and practice in clinical settings. They asked questions and did not get satisfactory answers. Their persistence in questioning, resistance to normalizing the behaviour, and dissatisfaction with the standard responses were behaviours that eventually earned Maja descriptions of “disruptive” and not committed to psychiatric nursing from their instructors and peers.

They quickly discerned that systemic changes were required. They enrolled in UBC’s MSN program and completed their thesis in 2018, entitled: “Involuntary and coercive psychiatric treatment: a critical discourse analysis of British Columbia’s Mental Health Act” (MHA).

Maja’s thesis dissects the MHA and the Guide to the Mental Health Act in an attempt to answer the questions that plagued them throughout their placement rotations as an undergrad, such as “What is safety? Whose safety is promoted? Who decides what is safe? How and by whom is it decided that seclusion and other coercive treatment practices are an appropriate response?”

The thesis targets the MHA’s language, concepts, and implementation as elements to be examined, challenged, or modified, suggesting that these changes are long overdue:

While the MHA’s stated intentions are to reduce harm and provide mental health treatment, the legislation has been extensively criticized by service-users, families, and advocates alike for issues concerning consent, involuntary treatment, and decision-making authority.

Maja concludes with a recommendation for further research to explore ways in which “nurses embody or resist involuntary and coercive psychiatric treatment practices,” in hopes of altering harmful approaches to mental health treatment.

With Maja’s new appointment at St. Paul’s Hospital, they are well-positioned to begin implementation of the changes they want to see, and to continue to ask–and answer–the hard questions.