Mental Health And The Law: What Are Your Rights?


Sep 12, 2017

Mental Health And The Law: What Are Your Rights?

Each year, approximately 1 in 5 Australians experiences mental illness; despite being relatively common, there’s still a lot of stigma around the issue. Many people who experience mental illness are often silent about their struggles, but as the third leading cause of disability burden in the workplace, it’s important that we talk about it. In this article, we’ll be speaking about the legal side of mental illness, and how this may affect you.

What is mental illness?

As defined under the Mental Health Act 2014, mental illness is a medical condition wherein an individual’s thoughts, memory, mood or perception is significantly distorted or disturbed. Some examples include depression, schizophrenia and anxiety, which affects up to 14% of the Australian population in any given 12 month period.

There are many common misconceptions around mental illness, but one of the most damaging myths is the perceived link between mental illness and violence. In fact, 90% of people who struggle with mental disorders have no history or violence, and most violent people have no history of mental illness. Because this misunderstanding still prevails today, people who are mentally ill may be wrongly classified as dangerous. In reality, they represent one of the most vulnerable groups in our community.

What are your rights for receiving treatment?

For anyone who suffers from mental illness, there are several laws that have been put in place for protection, such as the rights to privacy and confidentiality, among other human rights. The Mental Health Act is geared towards recovery, meaning that it aims to support consenting people to recover. Unless a health professional deems you unfit to consent, every adult has the right to make an informed decision about their mental health treatment.

There are two types of mental health patient; voluntary and compulsory. As a voluntary patient, you may be admitted to a hospital or psychiatric institution, but you’re free to leave whenever you feel is appropriate. In the case of the compulsory patient, a person will be admitted for treatment after assessment by a psychiatrist, and this may mean that they receive treatment against their wishes.

Get assistance

If you’re not satisfied with the treatment you may have or may not have received, you can make a complaint to the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner. You can also seek out assistance from a lawyer to advocate for you or to simply inform you about the legal processes involved. In any case, it’s important to get help from people who have your best interests at heart.

Mental illness can be incredibly debilitating, but with proper help, it can become much more manageable. When it comes to legal matters, don’t forget that you have the right to make informed decisions about your treatment and any recovery avenues that may be available to you, as there’s nothing worse than suffering in silence.

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