Civil liberties and citizen mental health

In NSW, section 19 of the mental health act allows a person to be detained if a medical officer, or a person accredited for the purposes of the act, “is satisfied that no other appropriate means for dealing with the person is reasonably available, and that involuntary admission and detention are necessary”.

But wait a minute. Let’s look at history…

Mental health human rights has been an area of law and civil freedom that dates back to at least 1654, when a person with depression had carers ordered for him by magistrates. This has since led me to debate whether compulsory treatment is fair or right.

If we are to be free to make our own choices, then how can another person make the right choice for you? Freedom entails the right to make the wrong choice – the “dignity of risk”.

Compulsory psychiatric intervention is then a dilemma where the person is not able to make their own decisions. In this reduced or supported decision-making capacity, real freedom surely must mean that we have a duty of care to stop people (including ourselves) from destroying the self?

The 2014 amendments to the mental health act added principles but no extra duty on the state to protect consumers. Since psychiatrists are no longer “in bed” with the evil drug companies, can we trust them to act in the best interests of people in their care? That’s a question for another day.


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