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Room for improvement in mental health law

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13 June 2011

Professor Bernadette McSherry
Professor Bernadette McSherry

Monash University has established the first Australasian research centre to focus specifically on developing law, policy and regulatory frameworks in the area of mental health.

Located within the Faculty of Law, the Centre for the Advancement of Law and Mental Health (CALMH) aims, through research and consultation, to improve both access to mental health care services, and the way individuals with mental illnesses are treated by the justice system.

Professor Bernadette McSherry, Director of CALMH, believes the Centre will result in real improvements in the mental health system.

“Without appropriate laws in place to regulate access to mental health services, involuntary detention and treatment, as well as diversion and sentencing programs for offenders with mental and/or intellectual impairments, there can be unnecessary deaths from suicides and other premature deaths relating to certain mental illnesses,” Professor McSherry said.

“There are also economic costs. In 2006, the Council of Australian Governments estimated the annual cost of mental illness in Australia as approximately $20 billion, including lost productivity and participation in the workforce.”

“CALMH aims to make a substantial contribution to the transformation of the mental health law system, from one that is currently fragmented and inequitable, into a new legal system, which, for the delivery of mental health services, is comprehensive, coordinated, evidence-based and just.”

Professor McSherry said a major focus for CALMH will be to research the ways in which the law can be used to co-ordinate services for those individuals who experience mental illnesses in conjunction with substance abuse issues, intellectual impairment, acquired brain injury, dementia and forensic issues.

In addition to scholarly research, CALMH will provide evaluation and guidance on law reform and implementation, particularly relating to the rights and treatment, within the justice system, of people with mental impairments. Issues related to decision-making incapacity and guardianship of people with mental illnesses will also be a focus.

CALMH was launched earlier this month by Professor Michael Perlin, Director of the Mental Disability Law Program at the New York Law School. Professor Perlin, a vocal advocate for the reform of mental health laws, praised the Centre as a new way to combat bias against people with mental illnesses.