S23: Human Rights & Mental Health Services: A Double-Whammy Recolonisation for Marginalised Populations?

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By September 3, 2019 No Comments

Authors: Helen Milroy

Year: 2019

Event: 2019 TheMHS Conference

Subject: Human Rights & Mental Health Services: A Double-Whammy Recolonisation for Marginalised Populations?

Type of resource: Conference Presentations and Papers

Abstract: Helen Milroy is a descendant of the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia but was born and educated in Perth. Currently Helen is a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Professor at the University of Western Australia and Commissioner with the National Mental Health Commission. Helen has been on state and national mental health advisory committees and boards with a particular focus on Indigenous mental health as well as the wellbeing of children. From 2013-2017 Helen was a Commissioner for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The modern human rights framework, based on respect for inherent dignity of all humans, was crystallized by the United Nations through Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) 2006 embedded the rights of individuals with disabilities, including mental disabilities, into the international law. However, people with mental disabilities, especially the most disadvantaged groups e.g. Indigenous peoples, the homeless, prisoners, refugees and asylum seekers continue to face gross violation of their human rights. For example, Maori people in New Zealand and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia are significantly more likely to be subject to compulsory psychiatric treatment and experience seclusion. This double whammy of having a mental disability and being marginalized has been called ‘re-colonization of marginalized populations’.

Minimizing/eliminating involuntary treatment and seclusion/restraint require systematic voluntary options e.g. community-based and recovery-oriented mental health services and legislation that incorporates a respect for individual autonomy through advance health directives and supported decision-making principles. In addition, the government policies at all levels must promote empowerment, social inclusion and economic participation of individuals with mental disabilities and vulnerable population groups by promoting positive rights to housing, healthcare, education and employment. Most importantly, society at large has to commit to inclusive human development and social equity, especially for disadvantaged individuals facing capability deprivation.

This symposium will discuss the violations of human rights faced by vulnerable populations and identify potential solutions to ‘close the gap’ by focusing on legislation, policy and practice.


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Gill NS. Human rights framework – an ethical imperative for psychiatry. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 2019, Vol 53 (I) 8-10

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