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Protecting the rights of young people in the Mental Health Act

Mental Health Reform have launched a campaign calling on the government to address the gaps in the Mental Health Act 2001


Written by Hannah Byrne | View this authors Twitter page and posted in news


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Mental health organisation Mental Health Reform, the national coalition on mental health in Ireland, have launched a new campaign calling for the reform of the Mental Health Act, 2001.

The organisation has said that urgent updates are needed to Ireland’s mental health law in order to protect the basic rights of people with mental health difficulties.

The campaign has been backed by 74 member organisations across Ireland.

What is the Mental Health Act?

The Mental Health Act, 2001 is the law that must be followed when a person goes into hospital for mental health care and treatment.

The Act sets out:

  • The circumstances in which a person can be admitted to hospital against their will
  • How a person should be treated when admitted to hospital for mental health reasons
  • The rights of patients under the Mental Health Act
  • The responsibilities the mental health team has towards their patient

Involuntary detention

If a person has been admitted to hospital for mental health treatment against their will, the Mental Health Act, 2001 gives this person the right to have their case automatically reviewed by a Mental Health Tribunal. The Tribunal will look at their case within 21 days of the person being admitted to hospital.

Why does the Mental Health Act need to be reformed?

In 2012, an Expert Group was put together to review the Mental Health Act, 2001. The aim was to bring Irish mental health law in line with best practice around the world and to make sure the rights of those going into hospital for mental health care are protected.

This group published 165 recommendations to improve the Mental Health Act in 2015. Although the Irish government has accepted these recommendations and has recognised that there is a need to reform Irish mental health law, only two of these recommendations have come into effect to date.

Delays in updating the Act

According to Senior Policy and Research Officer at Mental Health Reform, Kate Mitchell, “The Mental Health Act is significantly out of line with international human rights law and does not adequately protect the rights of people who go into hospital for mental health treatment.” There have been numerous delays over the last four years with publishing the draft legislation to update the Act. “People who need inpatient treatment for their mental health difficulty cannot wait any longer for their rights to be protected,” says Mitchell.

The Mental Health Act and young people

Two of the key areas that Mental Health Reform are calling on the Government to address surround the rights of young people and children in Irish mental health law.

  • The right to consent at 16 and 17 years of age
  • Guiding principles for children and young people

According to Ms. Mitchell, “The current Mental Health Act, 2001 is not in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) or the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD)."

The right to consent at 16 and 17 years of age

In Ireland, the age of medical consent is 16 years old, including physical, dental, or surgical treatment. This means that if you are 16 or 17, you can agree to or refuse physical medical care or dental care.

Consenting or refusing mental health care

However, people aged 16 and 17 years old are not given the right to consent or refuse mental health care, including refusing to be admitted to hospital for mental health treatment. This means that young people aged 16 and 17 have no say or control over their own mental health care, and they cannot refuse the type of treatment they are undergoing.

For example, under the current legislation, a 16 or 17 year old would have to undergo treatment like electro-convulsive therapy even if they don’t want to.

Involuntary detention at 16 or 17 years old

There is also no review by the Mental Health Tribunal if a 16 or 17 year old is admitted to hospital against their will like there is for other patients who are involuntarily admitted. Because there is no legal right to consent at this age, their admission will be considered ‘voluntary’ if a parent or guardian has given consent.

Recommendation

Mental Health reform are calling for the Mental Health Act, 2001 to be updated to give those aged 16 and 17 years old the right to consent or refuse mental health treatment and care, just as they have this right for medical and dental care.

Guiding principles for the treatment of children and young people

The Mental Health Act, 2001 applies to both adults and children, but there is no one section outlining the rights of children and young people. Any reference to children and young people are spread out across sections parts of the Act.

This causes confusion around what sections of the act apply to children and young people. It also means there is a lack of detail on protections for children and young people in mental health care.

Recommendation

When the Expert Group reviewed the Mental Health Act, 2001, they recommended that a new standalone section be created to outline the rights of children, setting out a list of child-specific guiding principles in line with international human rights standards.

This includes:

  • The right to the highest standard of mental health care
  • The right to be consulted about their mental health care and treatment
  • The right to express their views and be heard
  • The right to make decisions for themselves
  • The right to access age-appropriate services
  • Mental health services should be close to their family and/or carers
  • The best interests of the child should be taken into account, shaped by their own personal views

Other recommendations

In addition to these issues surrounding young people, Mental Health Reform are also calling on the government to address:

  • Individual Care or Recovery Plans: Individuals do not yet have a statutory right to individual care or recovery plan
  • Advocacy & Information: Voluntary patients still do not have basic rights to information and advocacy
  • Advanced Healthcare Directives: Involuntary patients do not have the right to have their advance wishes about treatment respected

How to get involved

To get involved in the campaign, Mental Health Reform are asking people to:

  • Share posts about the campaign to Reform the Mental Health Act on social media using #ReformMHAct
  • Contact your local TD or representative to keep up political pressure and get their support
  • Donate to continue the campaign
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Published June 16th2019
Last updated Sep­tem­ber 17th2019
Tags mental health reform mental health campaign mental health act 2001
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