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.

Other roles

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

Psychosurgery is 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

Mental Health commission, 14 Baggot Street, Dublin 2

Tel: (01) 6362400,


See the Mental Health Commission website at..