Michelle Francoeur of Saskatchewan, Canada, was recently found by the court to be criminally not responsible for the sexual assault of a 15-year-old boy when she was found to suffer from a misdiagnosed and mistreated mental illness.
In 2008, Michelle was 27 years old and teaching students between kindergarten and ninth grades. She was having some problems, so she went to her doctor, who diagnosed her with depression and prescribed the antidepressant Effexor. While the drug was meant to help treat her depression, it wound up ripping her life apart.
After a couple of months on Effexor, Michelle started behaving oddly. She was drinking to excess, had trouble sleeping, lost a lot of weight because she stopped eating and even talked excessively. This was deemed as a radical change in her normal personality. According to her lawyer, Michelle was even taking shortcuts in raising her two small children, who were 5 and 7 at the time. Eventually, she became sexually involved with a 15-year-old student. As a result of it, she was fired from her job and formally charged with sexual assault.
When her family started to get concerned about her increasingly erratic behavior, they sent a letter to her doctor, which eventually led him to reassess Michelle’s initial diagnosis. He determined that Michelle was suffering from bipolar disorder. This is where things get interesting because Effexor, which Michelle was taking at the time, is known to exacerbate manic behavior in people suffering from the condition. This manic phase is determined by the sufferer feeling a heightened sense of emotion such as elation, euphoria, racing thoughts, inability to sleep and difficulty seeing the consequences of their actions.
Michelle’s lawyer told CBC in an interview, “It was a very tragic circumstance… It was a lady who has an underlying condition which was misdiagnosed and received medication that really had a catastrophic effect on her.”
While the sentiment is nice, and it saved Michelle from time in prison, it didn’t help her destroyed career and reputation. Misdiagnoses and treatment like Michelle’s is not uncommon, and many doctors could prevent situations like this by simply taking more time in assessing patients before making prescription decisions. While Michelle certainly has grounds for filing a lawsuit, right now she is just happy to be cleared of deliberate wrong doing and hoping to get on with her life.