New law needed to ensure mental health service reform

Objective: New law needed to ensure mental health service reform

Government policy: Ireland has been promised comprehensive community-based services since 1984’s mental health policy was published, but it has still not been delivered. As policy alone is failing to deliver mental health reform, we are calling for new law to underpin the development of sustainable, comprehensive community-based mental health services.

The problem: Every year the Government’s mental health watchdog, the Inspector for Mental Health Services produces a report into inpatient services and concludes there is an over-reliance on medication and hospitalisation. Without appropriate community-based supports, people who are in crisis but who could be treated at home will end up being hospitalised unnecessarily. And if a person in hospital requires supports in order to be discharged, their stay will be unnecessarily lengthened if the supports they need are not available in the community. Community based services are able to support a person to recover and reintegrate into their community, to retain or obtain employment and education, and sustain family life.

Human rights: Failure to make appropriate mental health services available can have consequences, not only for people’s right to mental health, but for a whole range of other rights such as the rights to liberty, privacy and bodily integrity and freedom from inhuman or degrading treatment.

Accountability is a key human rights principle. We need to know what steps the State has taken to reform mental health services, how the budget is being allocated and why.

Under international human rights law the State must ensure the availability of, at the very least, core minimum essential levels of mental health services. In addition year on year, the State must demonstrate that it is using its available resources in an efficient manner so as to improve mental health service provision over time. This does not mean that the State must immediately provide services it cannot afford, but it does mean they must plan for how and when they will move towards providing services. Law will not solve everything but it will show the Government is committed to driving change and will underpin and drive the provision of services.

Impact: what will have changed for people if accountability is improved for mental health services
If you have a mental health problem it will mean:

  • You will know that the Government is accountable in law and to the Oireachtas to deliver community services
  • You will know what the Government is doing to improve services
  • In the future you will have access to services and supports in your community
  • You will not have to disappear from your community when you are unwell
  • You will not have to go to hospital when you don’t need to
  • You will not lose your job when you become unwell