Mental Illness Policy Issues

  • There are serious failings in the way that public policy addresses mental illness in our society.
  • The most serious failings as well as other inherent issues within mental health have been identified that is broadly reflected in Mental Illness Policy Issues.
  • The single greatest cause of distress and difficulty; to the greatest proportion of those living with mental illness, is the way our society responds to them.

The most serious failings include:

• The endemic institutionalisation of those designated as mentally ill, whether that institutionalisation is carried out within the framework of a criminal justice or public health response.

• The lack of a public voice in Australia for those who have been designated as mentally ill and the de-legitimisation (and pathologisation) of their viewpoints by professional and political authorities.

• The abuse of psychiatric medication for the behavioural management of those designated as mentally ill, both in institutions and the community, and the lack of access by sufferers to well informed, non-coercive choice of therapeutic and support options. See Alternative Law Journal on UN Convention on Rights for People with Disabilities. UNCRPD attached.

Other significant failings:

• Neglect and lack of support for those living in the community with mental illness and making the transition from institutional to community living.

• False media portrayals of the mentally ill as being particularly prone to commit violent acts, which justify intrusive andcoercive measures to avert. Misleading media portrayals that promote the view that people can be appropriately categorised by their mental illness. Beliefs that mental illness can be easily diagnosed and successfully treated by mental health professionals. See Alternative Law Journal article on Stigma attached.

• The acceptance of the dubious diagnoses and untested opinions of mental health experts as 'scientific evidence' by elements of our criminal justice system.

• The increasing influence of large multinational pharmaceutical companies over mental health professionals, policymakers and the statutory bodies and NGOs involved in the resourcing, planning and delivery of mental health services.

• The ongoing stereotyping, vilification, discrimination and abuse suffered by those designated as mentally ill in our society.

The existence of mental illness and the real suffering it causes the many thousands of Australians afflicted with it and the millions of Australians affected by it continues to be poorly addressed. The single greatest cause of distress and difficulty to the greatest proportion of those living with mental illness is unfortunately the way our society responds to them. Fortunately however, it is also within our hands that we can help address these critical issues surrounding mental health.

Our society needs to:

• Recognise that those designated as mentally ill are particularly vulnerable to vilification, neglect, abuse and denial of rights during their interaction with public and private institutions

• Seek to address such discrimination wherever it exists, but with particular emphasis on its presence in the criminal justice system.

• Prioritise the voices of those who have been diagnosed as mentally ill and promotes their participation in mental health education, policy development, planning and service delivery.

• Recognise that those who have been subjected to coercive mental health treatment have perspectives and concerns that are rarely shared with mental health consumers, carers, professionals or industry bodies and rejects policy development processes that do not take into account the views of such people.

• Support the establishment in Australia of independent grass roots mental health advocacy and activism groups along the lines of 'Insane Australia' (Victoria); 'The Consumer Activity Network' (NSW), email: canmentalhealth.org.au ph: 8206 1841, or outside Sydney 1300 135 846; 'Support Coalition International' (US) mindfreedom.org ; 'The Icarus Project' (US) theicarusproject.net; 'Mad Nation' (Canada) tinyurl.com/6o7su; and 'Mad Pride' (UK) madpride.

• Demand an end to the use of psychiatric drugs for patient/prisoner management purposes.

• Promote programs, policies and campaigns that seek to end the institutionalisation and forced treatment of those designated as mentally ill. Oppose programs which are likely to lead to greater use of institutionalisation and forced treatment. Forced treatment is not therapy, it is abuse.

• Reject the methods used by drug companies to exert disproportionate influence on mental health policy, including financial backing for practitioners, political parties and mental health NGOs.

• Supports the right of the mentally ill to access a wide range of support and treatment services or to reject treatment and services. Respect the right of the mentally ill to choose their own therapies and treatments.

• Call for the rejection of psychiatric or psychological expert opinion in criminal proceedings unless supported with considerable experimental or actuarial data. Actuarial data should be treated with extreme caution and skepticism, especially in attempting to apply generalised findings to specific cases.

• Call for streamlining of the procedures governing the release of forensic prisoners and significant investment in services to facilitate the reintegration of forensic prisoners into the community. Responsibility for the release of forensic prisoners should be taken from the hands of the executive.

• Reject all systems which seek to socially classify people by their alleged mental illness (e.g. 'registers' of the mentally ill, transfer or sharing of their medical records without their consent, New York style 'Kendra's Laws').

• Reject the popular stereotyping of those designated as mentally ill as a threat from which the community must be protected. They are part of the community who have unmet medical or social needs and are particularly vulnerable to individual and institutional abuse.


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