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Commissioner advocates for better understanding of people with mental illness

20 Dec 2013

Stigmatisation of mental illness remains a key community issue following the recent media coverage of the decision to secure adult acute mental health facilities operated by Queensland Health.

Queensland Mental Health Commissioner Dr Lesley van Schoubroeck said she would seek assurance about the practical application of new acute mental health care treatment guidelines following representations about patients’ rights and their portrayal in the community.

“The overwhelming concerns have been the way in which people with mental illness have been portrayed in the press and the need to provide the least restrictive form of care so that patients are treated with respect and dignity,” Dr van Schoubroeck said.

“I understand these changes in Queensland reflect legislative provisions in New South Wales, based on coronial recommendations following the death of a patient absent without permission.  It is important to address the safety of people who are acutely unwell and this does need to be balanced with the rights of individuals. 

“It is well-recognised that an important part of the treatment of involuntary patients is planned community treatment, which enables patients, such as mothers with post-natal depression and people with severe anxiety, to spend short periods of time at home.

“But there are also significant concerns about the impact of these changes on voluntary patients, people in hospital for treatment of their own free will. Clear guidelines to protect the rights of these patients are required,” she said.

Dr van Schoubroeck said community treatment was protected under the new guidelines and would continue.

She said people with mental illness were more likely to be victims of crime and more likely to harm themselves than others. 

A need for improved legal representation for involuntary patients was identified during recent state-wide consultations to inform the development of the mental health and drug strategic plan.

Mental illness is the third leading cause of disability in Australia and each year one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness.

Read the Commissioner's detailed statement on securing acute mental health facilities in public hospitals for more information.

The policy and practice guideline on securing adult acute mental health inpatient units is available from the Department of Health.