Mental Health Commission
Up to 25% of the Irish
population are affected by a mental health problem at some point in their
lives. That amounts to over 700,000 people. A new Mental Health Act was passed
into law in Ireland in 2001. The main aim of it was to bring our laws into line
with the international obligations for the protection of the rights of people
who require compulsory admission and treatment as a result of mental illness.
The new law provides
for the setting up of a Mental Health Commission. Its main purpose is to
promote, encourage and foster the establishment and maintenance of high
standards and good practices in the delivery of mental health services in
Ireland and to take all reasonable steps to protect the interests of people who
are detained in approved psychiatric centres.
The responsibilities of
the Commission are carried out by an Inspectorate of Mental Health Services
which visits and inspects each psychiatric hospital.
Reviews of involuntary detention
The rates of involuntary detention vary
considerably across Ireland, with little obvious reason apart from variations
in medical practice. Detaining someone against their will is a serious matter.
The Mental Health
Commission must be notified of every decision to detain a patient involuntarily
and every decision to extend the duration of a period of involuntary detention
in a psychiatric hospital. It appoints review tribunals to automatically review
the detention of every involuntary psychiatric patient and establishes a panel
of consultant psychiatrists to carry out independent medical examinations. The
psychiatrist selected from the panel will examine the patient; interview the
consultant psychiatrist responsible for the patient's treatment and care and
review the patient's records. The psychiatrist will decide, in the interests
of the patient, whether the patient is suffering from a mental disorder. The
report must be presented by the consultant psychiatrist to the tribunal and to
the patient's legal representative within 14 days.
The review tribunal
must review the detention of the patient and make a decision within 21 days of
the making of the order. If the tribunal is satisfied that the patient is
suffering from a mental disorder and that the proper procedures have been
followed it affirms the order. If it is not satisfied, it revokes the order and
directs that the patient be discharged. The Commission will also arrange for a
scheme for granting free legal aid to each patient whose involuntary detention
is being reviewed by a tribunal.
The Commission also
appoints an Inspector of Mental Health Services; advises the Health Minister on
a variety of issues, including standards in approved psychiatric centres and
maintains a register of approved psychiatric centres. It is charged with making
regulations relating to the use of constraints on patients; developing
guidelines, protocols and standard documentation in areas of detention,
treatment, patient information and in preparing codes of practice for those
working in the mental health services.
Permission for psychosurgery
surgery on the brain to relieve psychological symptoms. The procedure is
irreversible and reserves for only the most severe and intractable symptoms.
A further function of
the tribunals, under the direction of the Mental Health Commission, is to
consider any request for authorisation from a consultant psychiatrist to
perform psychosurgery on a patient where the patient gives his consent in
writing to such treatment.
If the tribunal is
satisfied that such surgery is in the best interests of the person, it will
authorise such surgery or where it is not so satisfied, refuse it.
Membership of the Commission
The Mental Health
Commission has 13 members. These members include: a lawyer, three registered practitioners
of whom two are consultant psychiatrists; a social worker, a psychologist, a
health board representative, a representative of the general public and three
representatives of voluntary bodies (at least two of whom must have or have had
a mental illness).
How to contact the Mental Health Commission
commission, 14 Baggot Street, Dublin 2
Tel: (01) 6362400,
See the Mental Health
Commission website at..