Australians Labeled Mentally Ill to be Held up to a Month Without Legal Review

June 5, 2010 at 9:00 pm 2 comments

How convenient it is to label someone mentally ill. You seldom have to worry about their rights. Whether legally supported or just socially allowed by way of a quiet acceptance (usually both), a label of mental illness separates you out to a lower and less free class. I know — it’s nothing I haven’t said before but until it changes, it’s not the kind of thing that goes without saying.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that things could be changing for the worse for Australians deemed mentally ill. Again. Australia doesn’t exactly have a good track record in terms of protection and rights for people with perceived mental illness — and frankly anyone interested in preserving their rights to any kind of due process should be concerned.

Leading psychiatrists warn that the civil rights of mentally ill people could be severely eroded by plans to extend the length of time patients may be held in locked wards without legal review.

The NSW Mental Health Tribunal is poised to introduce a new system which will mean a patient can be detained for up to one month before their case is reviewed by a lawyer.

At present someone who is compulsorily detained for emergency psychiatric treatment is reviewed by a magistrate within a week or so of admission.

A week “or so” and now a month? Being locked in a hospital is no less a method of incarceration than being locked in a jail. If you’re allowing someone to sit behind a locked door for a month before determining whether there was any legal validity in doing so, the pretense of medicine and the presence of doctors don’t mean a thing. It’s the lock on the door that counts. This is a staggering blow to the idea of basic rights and liberties and aside from those obvious issues, a month of being held anywhere  against your will is going to seriously impact your well being, family stability, reputation and of course, your employment and finances. The world keeps going by outside while you’re locked up.

“The delay in independent review will mean that people with mental illness, and the public at large, will not be able to have the same degree of confidence that their rights will be protected in our psychiatric hospitals – and for no gain but a minimal dollar saving,” the doctors argue in a recent medical newsletter. “Abuses have occurred in the past … Reducing our vigilance can only increase the possibility of another Chelmsford or ward 10B type scandal”.

An associate professor of psychiatry at Sydney University, Anthony Harris, also opposes the changes, saying they are a cost-saving measure that will remove a ”quick way that a patient and their family can query the system”

There is no us and them. This is not just for the “mentally ill” to worry about. If anyone can have their rights stripped away by a label, then everyone should be wary of how easily that label could applied to them. History has taught us many things. Even the strictest of systems can be corrupted and abused, much less a system that leaves this much room for indiscretion and is so imbalanced as to disregard your rights from the start. It’s a crime that it happens and a shame how often we quietly allow it.

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Thanks. Is Health the New Sickness?

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