Mentally ill win promise on rights

  • Nick Miller
  • January 30, 2009

HUMAN rights abuses are a regular, even routine part of Victoria's mental health system, a review has been told.

In response, a government-appointed panel, including Public Advocate Julian Gardiner and former footballer Wayne Schwass, pledged its support for stronger protection for the state's mentally ill when they face involuntary electro-convulsive therapy, seclusion or medication.

They spoke at the end of a day-long official community consultation, part of the Government's review of the 20-year-old Mental Health Act.

"It's essential that the Act respects and adheres to the basic, fundamental rights of the individual," Mr Schwass — who battled depression for 14 years — told the meeting. "This is an opportunity to change things that currently aren't working."

The review heard the opinion of about 100 people who had been through the mental health system, including involuntary treatment.

Some angrily told of their experiences, saying they had been put on unhealthy medication without being warned of the consequences. One compared the experience to being "clinically lobotomised" with "guesswork pharmacology" before he could understand what was happening to him.

They said seclusion was being used as a punishment rather than a last resort, and was too often abused.

They said requests for a review of involuntary treatments were ignored.

Mr Gardiner said he had heard "loud and clear" that the Government needed to make sure people's rights could be enforced through better complaints and review systems.

People who were caring for mentally ill relatives said they were not alerted when their son, daughter or brother was sent for electro-convulsive therapy, and were not consulted when they were often in the best position to advise on the most effective treatment.