Mental Health Act

The information below has been mostly reproduced with kind permission from the Sydney Local Health District

 

The NSW Mental Health Act 2007 is an Act of Parliament that governs the care, treatment and control of people in NSW who experience a mental illness or mental disorder.

 

The Act states that people are to receive the most effective care and treatment possible in the least restrictive environment, and that any restriction of liberty and interference with the rights, dignity and self-respect of the person is to be kept to the minimum necessary. This might mean that a person could be involuntarily treated in hospital, or this might mean that the person could be involuntarily treated in the community, and not necessarily in hospital, depending on the level or risk or severity of illness.

 

The Mental Health Act provides a number of ways in which the process of involuntary admission can be initiated. In 1996, for example, there were 7601 involuntary admissions in NSW. Most of these (64%) were initiated by a doctor’s certificate, 15% arose when a patient was reclassified from informal (voluntary) to involuntary, and 13% occurred on the written request of a relative or friend. The rest (8%) were initiated by welfare officers, the police or a court order. Most of those who were involuntarily admitted were detained as ‘mentally ill’ (80%), rather than as ‘mentally disordered’ (20%) persons (2).

 

Who/What does the Act provide for?

 

The Act makes provisions for the care of people who:

• are admitted to hospital voluntarily (informal patient)

• are admitted to, or detained in hospital against their wishes (involuntary patient)

• are required to receive treatment in the community

• have committed a serious offence and are mentally ill (forensic patient).

 

Who is a mentally ill person under the Act?

 

A "mentally ill person" is someone who is suffering from a mental illness and owing to that illness there are reasonable grounds for believing that care, treatment or control of the person is necessary:

  • for the person's own protection from serious harm, or

  • for the protection of others from serious harm.

 

It is important to understand the definition of 'harm' in this context is much broader than physical harm, and includes neglect of self and others, harm to reputation and relationships and financial harm (3).

 

Who is a mentally disordered person under the Act?

 

A "mentally disordered person" is someone whose behaviour is so irrational that there are reasonable grounds for deciding that the temporary care (up to 3 working days), treatment or control of the person is necessary to protect them or others from serious harm.

 

It is important to understand the definition of 'harm' in this context is much broader than physical harm, and includes neglect of self and others, harm to reputation and relationships and financial harm (3).

 

 

Intoxication alone is not sufficient to detain a person under the Act. The Act states that a person cannot be considered mentally ill or mentally disordered merely because ‘the person takes or has taken alcohol or any other drugs’. However, if intoxication causes irrational behaviour which results in a risk of serious physical harm and temporary treatment, care or control is necessary, the person may be mentally disordered within the Act (3).

 

 

Who can arrange for the involuntary admission of a person to hospital?

 

  • Medical practitioners

  • Police

  • Ambulance Officers

  • Accredited Person (who is a Gazetted Mental Health Professional)

  • A Court / Magistrate

 

 

References:

 

  1. Understanding The Mental Health Act, (September 2011) © 2015 Sydney Local Health District. Available from: https://www.slhd.nsw.gov.au/mentalhealth/az_topics.html (accessed on 8/11/2015)

  2. Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Act Guide Book (Amended May 2003) © NSW Department of Health 2003.                                                                                                                                     Available from: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/mhdao/publications/Publications/pub-act-2007-guide.pdf (accessed on 8/11/2015)

  3. Mental Health and Drug and Alcohol Office, Mental Health for Emergency Departments – A Reference Guide. NSW Ministry of Health. Amended March 2015

Available from: http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/mhdao/publications/Publications/mental-health-ed-guide.pdf (accessed on 26/11/2015)