Coercive treatment for mental illness reform ‘long overdue’

NZ Herald 14 June 2021
New guidelines from the World Health Organisation calling for an end to compulsory and “coercive” treatment for mental illness should be a wake-up call for New Zealand, mental health experts say.

A senior lecturer at Otago University, Sarah Gordon, who specialises in legal coercion and human rights, said the new report’s findings were consistent with New Zealand’s own Mental Health inquiry He Ara Oranga, which showed services need to move away from their entrenched reliance on coercive treatment orders.

“Everyone is quite clear our system is broken and until the recommendations of the inquiry are actually implemented, we won’t see general systemic change.”

The Mental Health Act is currently being revised for the first time since it came into effect in 1992, which was another reason services were so outdated in many cases, Gordon said.

New Zealand’s rates of compulsory treatment were high, due in part to the over-use of community treatment orders, which were “difficult to challenge and often become indefinite treatment orders”.

“The abolishment of substitute decision-making [compulsory treatment] does not equate to the abandonment of support. You still provide support – but in a different way.”

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