Why change the Act?
The New Zealanders who are subject to the Mental Health Act deserve to feel supported and cared for as they recover. Unfortunately the evidence is clear that, for far too many people, this is not the case. Misuse of the Act can be distressing, traumatising and inhibit recovery. In fact, rather than help people return to wellness, far too many people have had experiences with the Act that have actively increased their unwellness.
We have a duty to make sure the thousands of people who are subject to the Mental Health Act are given the best possible path to recovery. The Act should be about supporting people back to a place where they can make their own decisions about their mental health and wellbeing. Instead, the current Act is over thirty years old, has never been comprehensively reviewed, and is not adequately serving the people it is meant to serve.
Some people in Aotearoa have been under the Act for many years, under what is called an indefinite treatment order (ITO). Under an ITO, people will receive compulsory mental health treatment in the community or mental health facility until a judge, mental health clinician or review tribunal decide that they no longer need to. It is not always easy to have the Act lifted in these cases, which can have a long term impact on people and their whānau.
The Act is also used disproportionately against Māori. In 2019, Māori were 3.8 times more likely than non-Māori to be placed under the Act, and 2.7-2.9 times more likely to be subject to indefinite treatment orders than non-Māori.
For all these reasons and more, what the Mental Health Act looks like, and how it is used, is fundamentally a human rights issue. The current Act’s detrimental impact on the lives of those who experience it, as well as their family and whānau, means that it needs to be repealed and replaced. We need to work together towards new mental health legislation that keeps people safe, supported and protects people’s human rights.
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.