Psychiatric care breaks law, claims Amnesty


THE RIGHTS of people with mental health problems are being violated on a daily basis due to failures of psychiatric services, campaigners have warned.

Amnesty International Ireland said yesterday that the State’s failure to modernise mental health services and the continued use of institutional care was in breach of international law. The organisation has launched a campaign in partnership with people who have direct experience of mental health problems to help reverse decades of neglect of mental health services.

The two-year campaign seeks to highlight the State’s obligation to respect patients’ human rights and the need for new patient-centred services. In particular, it points to the Government’s failure to fully implement a 10-year blueprint to modernise the service, called A Vision for Change, as an example of continuing neglect.

Mike Watts, a mental health service user, said: “We know the mental health system is failing us because we have been through it and we want to do something about it.

“Mental health services continue to be dominated by a one-dimensional response. Too often the only treatment available is medication instead of a full range of treatments, options and social supports.”

He said the issue had been pushed to the bottom of the health agenda for too long, but pointed out that mental health issues affect large sections of the population.

“Today we are the ones talking about our experience of the mental health system in Ireland, but tomorrow it could be you. A Vision for Change was adopted as official policy more than three years ago, accompanied by pledges that it would be fully resourced and implemented,” he said.

However, there has been heavy criticism about the slow rate of progress and moves in recent years to divert much-needed funding away from the mental health sector.

An independent monitoring group established by the Government said recently that the HSE had still not issued a detailed implementation proposal for the plan. The campaign says it is clear the Government needs to implement a radically different approach to mental health, focused on each individual’s human rights and dignity, and promoting conditions where people can live a full life in the community.

Amnesty International’s executive director, Colm O’Gorman, said evidence showed that we could not afford to neglect mental health services any longer. “The direct annual cost of poor mental health in Ireland has been estimated at €3 billion, or 2 per cent of our gross national product,” he said.

He said the campaign would use human rights to demand action from the Government on policy and legislation relating to mental health. It will also challenge individuals and society to put an end to discrimination against people with mental health difficulties. “The campaign has evolved in the same way we want to see mental health services evolve – by putting the person at the heart of the system,” Mr O’Gorman said.

Among the aims of the campaign is to enable a group of people with mental health difficulties to hold the Department of Health and the HSE to account; seek greater transparency on health spending; and secure time-bound measures for implementing A Vision for Change.