Experts advise against legal change to Mental Health Act

Mental health experts have recommended against changing the law to allow for greater family involvement in the care of a person with mental illness.

Minister of state for mental health Kathleen Lynch confirmed the development as two mothers whose families have been devastated by murder-suicides vowed to continue their campaigns for a law change.

Una Butler and Helen O’Driscoll both said that the Mental Health Act must be changed to prevent other families going through similar tragedies.

“Since 2006, there has been a document called A Vision For Change which highlights that greater involvement of family members and carers is recommended but still nothing has been done,” said Ms Butler.

“It cannot continue like this and if it does, I believe that there will be another tragedy. In order to prevent further cases from happening we need to research and learn from them.

“We need to learn from them and to learn we need to research and investigate.”

Una’s husband John killed their two daughters, Zoe, six, and Ella, two, in the family home in Ballycotton in East Cork in 2010 before taking his own life.

Experts advise against legal change to Mental Health Act

John Butler

Helen’s son Jonathan, 21, stabbed his nine-year-old twin brothers, Patrick and Thomas, to death in the family home in Charleville, Co Cork, in September 2014 before taking his own life.

John had been discharged from the care of the HSE just six weeks before he killed his daughters. Jonathan had been battling depression, and had been diagnosed with early onset schizophrenia or psychosis.

Experts advise against legal change to Mental Health Act

Jonathan O’Driscoll with his twin brothers, Patrick and Thomas

However, because of doctor patient confidentiality, their families were not told before the murder-suicides just how sick they were.

An expert group appointed by Ms Lynch to review the legislation was asked to have special regard to the Butler case. However, after two years of work, it has recommended against changing the law to facilitate greater family involvement.

“I understand the distress this may cause to Una and Helen but the very clear advice I’m getting from the experts is that it would be difficult to do this on a statutory footing,” Ms Lynch said.

“If a patient says to a doctor ‘I don’t want anyone else to know’, the doctor does have to respect that.”

However, she stressed that where a person expresses clear suicidal thoughts or thoughts about harming or killing others, then a psychiatrist is obliged to flag those concerns.

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