Calls to reform mental health detainment law

THE former head of the Mental Health Commission has said we need to radically look at the way in which people are detained against their will in this country.

Hugh Kane, who retired from the commission last year, said while there will always be a need for a small minority of people to be brought into hospital when they don’t want to go, it is far from an ideal way to go about treating someone.

“When you are trying to intervene therapeutically with someone, using force is not the best way to go about it. While we do have more protection than we once did with tribunals, the review of the Mental Health Act next year needs to look at this from a human rights point of view,” he said.

Mr Kane, who worked in social services for nearly 40 years, said research needed to be undertaken on the experiences of people detained against their will.

He said the system whereby one doctor can get another to co-sign for a second opinion which can work to take away a person’s rights also needs reform.

Currently a project development director at Genio and an adviser to Mad Pride Ireland, Mr Kane said once people are admitted to hospital, whether it is against their will or not, the remedy is medication. This is not good enough, he said.

“There is a role for it, and people often do need to be stabilised using medications, but we really need to get to grips with the underlying issues which are affecting people,” he said.

“We need to start using [cognitive behavioural therapy] and help people to get to the bottom of their problems otherwise they will not get better. Recovery has to be the focus.”

The campaigning group, Mental Health Reform, maintains force should not be used as it takes away a person’s dignity.

The group also wants an independent complaints mechanism set up for people with mental health problems because, under the current rules, a person who is involuntarily detained may have to make a complaint to the person responsible for detaining them.

The 1945 Mental Health Act criminalised the ill-treatment or neglect of a person in a psychiatric unit, but this was repealed under the 2001 act.

Mental Health Reform stated: “We see no rationale for this. In light of the history of abuse in institutions in Ireland, it is important this provision is made in legislation to emphasise the unacceptability of abusive behaviour.”

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