Replacing the Mental Health Act

The Mental Health Act will be repealed and replaced soon: learn more and make your submission.
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Found in: News / Statements
Date: 15 December 2021

What is the Mental Health Act?

The Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 is the law that is used when someone is mentally unwell and is believed to need treatment but does not agree to that treatment. The Act covers that person’s rights, how they are assessed and how they receive compulsory treatment.

Currently, people can be placed under the Act if they do not consent to treatment but experience mental health symptoms that a mental health clinician deems serious enough to cause the person to pose a risk to themselves or others. A mental health clinician and a Director of Mental Health Area Services (DAMHS) initially decide whether someone should be placed under the Act, and if they are, whether that person will receive compulsory mental health treatment in a mental health facility, or in the community until the Act is lifted. 

You can find out more about how the Act works, including what compulsory treatment means, here.

Who is affected?

Over 5,600 New Zealanders are subject to the Act right now and as a result, must receive mental health treatment in a mental health facility or in the community. 

The Act is also used disproportionately against Māori. In 2020, Māori were 2.9 times more likely to be subject to indefinite treatment orders than non-Māori. Males were more likely to be subject to the Mental Health Act than females, and people aged 25–34 years were the most likely age group to be subject to compulsory treatment

Why change the Act?

He Ara Oranga, the report of the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, has recognised that the Act has not kept pace with New Zealand’s mental healthcare system’s shift towards a recovery and wellbeing approach to care. 

The Act came into force over 30 years ago and has never been comprehensively reviewed. He Ara Oranga identified that the Act is based on the false assumption that we can accurately predict the risk that people who are mentally unwell may harm themselves or others - in fact, we cannot, and the authors of the report identified that the results of using the Act were often “not good” for the people subjected to it, clinicians or the community. 

The report recommended that the Act be repealed and replaced, so that it:

  • reflects a human rights-based approach; 
  • promotes supported decision-making; 
  • aligns with the recovery and wellbeing model of mental health; and
  • provides measures to minimise compulsory or coercive treatment.

The Government accepted this recommendation.

The Mental Health Foundation strongly supports this recommendation. We have spoken to many people who have been under the Act and have found the experience to be distressing and a barrier to their recovery. We believe the law can change to ensure people can be given the best possible chance at recovery by:

  • making their own choices about the treatment and healthcare they receive (with support where necessary)
  • keeping their rights at the forefront at all times, and 
  • by designing and investing in treatments and services that are focused on recovery and wellbeing, and minimise or totally eliminate coercive and compulsory treatment.
    Public consultation is now closed.

Need help now?

If you need support immediately, helpline services are available right now in New Zealand that offer support, information and help for you and your parents, family, whānau and friends. All the services listed here are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week unless otherwise specified.