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Mental health patients possess the same human rights as all other individuals in the world. According to both international and national law, they should be treated as citizens entitled to community support. Mental health facilities have a duty to care for patients in a humane, respectful manner. However, in practice, they are granted unbounded discretionary power to force vulnerable patients to take medication whenever staff believe it is appropriate. Overpowering the consumer in the form of seclusion and restraint has recently been examined by the 10th National Forum for the Reduction of Seclusion and Restraint, held in May 2015, as well as at the 9th National Seclusion and Restraint Reduction Forum, in 2013. It is the easiest management tool to keep people sedated sitting or lying down, and not help them to recovery.
The sustained use of seclusion and restraint reflects the need for systemic change in Australia’s mental health system. Improving mental health care hence requires the prioritisation of consumer autonomy and the development of alternative care practices. Greater oversight and accountability must be achieved to ensure that out-dated and harmful practices are abandoned in favour of treatment that takes a patient-centred and evidence-based approach.
Community Treatment Orders
Community Treatment Orders (CTOs) are a frequently used tool in mental health legislation to authorise the compulsory treatment of a person without their consent. This treatment is generally reduced to nothing more than arrest and forced medication. This is counterproductive and should be stopped.
Although the imposition of a CTO is the health profession’s current response to people diagnosed with mental illness and who may have a history of refusing treatment, its broad scope and intrusive nature allows great room for abuse. The wide-ranging applicability of CTOs has shaped them as a tool for control, minimising the importance of listening to the voices of mental health consumers, and producing unsatisfactory outcomes for vulnerable members of the community.
Justice Action Publications
Mental Health Accountability and Chemical Restraint: Research and Recommendationsis a Justice Action study into mental health consumer preferences regarding medication and the willingness of authorities to consider collecting this data.
Mad in Australia: This publication places the abuse of mental health patients in Australia within an historical and cultural context. It identifies how the culture of doctors forcing medication on mental health patients began, in breach of their ethical obligations, and against the evidence of its effectiveness. It also offers solutions.
The Emperor has no clothes: Justice Health’s lack of concern for the welfare of its clients is blindingly obvious and yet the health industry still pretends it is fulfilling its obligations.
Justice Action presented a report at Justice Health in Australia: Equity in Health Care, 15 August 2012. Available in mp3 format here.
The Our Pick Report: This report by Justice Action addresses the state of mental health care in Australia. Justice Action decided to focus on the mental health area after it had become apparent that a new strategy was required to defend community interests and prisoners' rights against the law and the added effects of tension, boredom, powerlessness and isolation occuring in imprisonment. Many prisoners become forensic patients or remain in prison under medication: the rates of major mental illness in prisons have been found to be three times higher than that of the general population. This report confronts the inadequacies plaguing mental health care in locked hospitals and prisons in Australia.
Mental illness policy issues: There are serious failings in the way that public policy addresses mental illness in our society. The single greatest cause of distress and difficulty to many persons living with mental illness is the way our society responds to them.
Media Release: Mental Tribunal Permits Torture