The case of Michael Riley illustrates how the mental health system consistently fails to protect the rights of individuals whose behaviour is perceived as indicative of mental illness. In particular, it sheds light on how interpretations of section 14 of the Mental Health Act 2007 (NSW),1 which stipulates the definition of ‘mentally ill’, are often unsubstantiated by tangible evidence. This results in vague and imprecise outcomes. Mr Riley’s case also demonstrates how the mental health system favours immediate medication-based solutions, as opposed to social support mechanisms. Mental health institutions employ forced medication as a simple ‘fix’ rather than holistic long-term rehabilitation via support systems. In fact, as Mr Riley’s Designated Caregiver, Justice Action was not notified of his forced hospitalisation. The Mental Health Act is designed to protect individuals perceived to have a mental illness.2 Overall, Mr Riley’s situation highlights that mental health institutions show little respect for these safeguards for civil liberties.
Michael Riley was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder in early 2000. Since then, he has been admitted to mental health units on more than 17 occasions. Notably, there is clear agreement amongst health care professionals and family alike, that Mr Riley has never harmed anyone, nor does he pose a threat. Mr Riley lives with his mother, sister and brother-in-law. He also has a seven-year-old daughter called Anna. He has a mixed relationship with his family, who have frequently called the police and ambulance services when he has displayed behaviour indicative of mental illness. Mr Riley has a degree in Economics and Political Science from the University of Sydney. Mr Riley was completing his honours thesis when he was reported as having a mental breakdown.