Mental health care and civil rights of the mentally disordered in the Australian Capital Territory

  • Bernadette Ibell

    Student thesis: Master's Thesis


    This study focuses on mental health care and the civil rights of both the mentally ill and the mentally retarded (i.e. the mentally disordered), citizens of the Australian Capita 1 Territory. The study begins by describing the historical background which has affected current mental health care; the timespan stretches from the nineteenth century when both the mentally ill and the mentally retarded were institutionalised in the asylum, to the present time, with the preferred community centred therapy and ‘normalisation’ of the mentally disordered. It is explained that current mental health theories recommend that the role of the psychiatric hospital (formerly asylum), should be that of a crisis intervention centre only. The effects of the carefully framed Lunacy Acts of the 19th century are explored in relation to civil rights, as well as the roles played by doctors and lawyers in asylum care. The development of physical treatments, the emergence of psychiatry as a discipline, the catalytic effect of World War II and then the discovery of psychoactive drug therapy culminated in the writing of the Mental Health Acts of the 1950’s. The subsequent shift of power from lawyers to doctors in the implementing of these Acts is explained in relation to the civil rights of affected individuals as is the effect of tensions which still exist between these two professions. Current mental health care within the ACT is described, and potential which exists for infringement of the civil rights of the mentally ill and the mentally retarded is highlighted. Recent and current frameworks for mental health care are critiqued, and it is argued that improvement could be made to the latter by developing a mental health model, in which the need for monitoring civil rights is stressed. Against this background, an analysis is made of the ACT Mental Health Ordinance (1981). The need for the new Ordinance is explained, and the Ordinance is then examined in relation to its effect upon mental health care in the ACT, and upon civil rights. In conclusion, a summary is made of the findings of the study, and inferences are drawn for the future of mental health care and for civil rights of the mentally disordered in the ACT.
    Date of Award1984
    Original languageEnglish

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