Manatū Hauora | Ministry of Health recently released some important policy decisions about Aotearoa’s mental health law (the Mental Health Act). We wrote to the Minister of Health last month about this, and you can read our letter here.
What is the Mental Health Act?
The Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 is a law which can make someone be assessed for and then receive mental health treatment, either in a hospital or in the community. This law is over 30 years old and raises many ethical and human rights concerns. Work to change this law was recommended in the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry report He Ara Oranga.
Why are these policy decisions important?
These policy decisions were made by Cabinet (the government’s central decision-making body) and show what the new mental health law could look like when it is released next year.
Thousands of people affected by the Mental Health Act – people who have been or are under the Act, their friends, family and whānau, and people working in the mental health sector – have submitted their thoughts on how this law should change.
This August, after hearing and reading these views, Manatū Hauora released Cabinet’s policy decisions on the reform. Their full decisions are here.
To save people time, we have summarised these decisions from Cabinet below. This list is in no particular order and simplifies some of the decisions to make them easier to read.
Cabinet has recommended the new mental health law:
- Respects human rights
- Supports te ao Māori recovery approaches, in order to promote people’s recovery and safety, and to support equitable outcomes for Māori
- Raises the bar for receiving compulsory mental health treatment, by requiring the person receiving it to not have capacity to make informed decisions about their own care
- Empowers people to make decisions about their own care (as opposed to others making decisions for them) by making supported decision-making a central part of the new law. Examples of this include introducing advance directives (where people say in advance how they would like to be cared for); nominating independent support people; and holding hui (meetings) to explore options for care, treatment and support
- Strengthens the role of whānau, hapū and iwi in a person’s mental health treatment
- Includes a wider range of treatment options, including kaupapa Māori approaches; holistic and more thorough mental health assessments; and group approaches to planning mental health treatment
- Ensures people have support available when leaving compulsory mental health treatment behind
- Significantly limits the use of solitary confinement (seclusion) and restraint. Note: ‘Solitary confinement’ is when someone is locked in a bare room they are unable to freely leave, and ‘restraint’ is any type of action – physical or chemical – which limits a person’s freedom of movement.
- Strengthens what supports people under the Mental Health Act are given in cases where they disagree with decisions about their care, such as the use of District Inspectors, the Mental Health Tribunal and complaints processes.
In 2024, the government will release a draft of the new mental health law (called a ‘Bill’) for public consultation before it becomes law. Every New Zealander can have a say at this consultation stage.
We are keeping a close eye on exactly when this consultation stage will happen, so that we and others can help influence this new draft law to be as supportive and mana-enhancing as possible.
During this consultation stage, the MHF will send a submission (a written document outlining our views) to the government about this Bill, and what we’d like it to change or include.
If you would like your views to form part of our submission, we’d love to hear from you. Just send us an email at email@example.com to get started. We will also provide some guidance to help you send in your own submission.
Want to learn more?
We will be releasing a campaign around the Mental Health Act in the coming months. Sign up to our policy and advocacy e-newsletter (via the e-newsletter sign up link below) to stay updated.