Citizens Committee on Human Rights

The Mental Health Watchdog

Australian National Office

Electroshock Set To Remain Legal For Children In New NSW Mental Health Act Which Could Be Passed Into Law As Early as the Third Week of November 2014

A sad boy looking out through a window.The NSW Mental Health Act has been under review and despite the Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year reporting that a draft bill would be made available to the public for feedback, this has not occurred. Instead the bill was put straight into NSW Parliament for voting into law without being shown to the public.

Electroshock of NSW Children to Remain Legal

In this day and age, it is appalling that both the current and new law allows for children to be electroshocked (ECT) – the brutal application of hundreds of volts of electricity to the head potentially causing brain damage, memory loss and sometimes death. There are no bans to prevents its use on children in the new NSW Act currently before the Upper House of Parliament. This is despite the fact the World Health Organisation stated, “There are no indications for the use of ECT on minors, and hence this should be prohibited through legislation.”

Western Australia has just banned its use on children under 14 years of age. Looking overseas, Sicily with a population of around 5 million, banned its use completely in October 2013, and since 1993, the US state of Texas has banned electroshock for under 16 year olds. There are other bans and restrictions around the world for children.

Electroshock is set to remain legal for NSW children of any age. The new Act allows for an involuntarily detained child to be given electroshock without parental consent required at any stage of the approval process including at a Tribunal who give final approval. A total of 6,067 Medicare funded electroshocks were given in NSW in 2013, an 11% increase since 2009. ECT must be banned for use on children, pregnant women and the elderly. ECT should never be given without the full informed consent of involuntary patients. [Mental Health Amendment (Statutory Review) Bill 2014, pages 10, 11 & NSW Mental Health Act 2007, Division 3- Electro convulsive therapy]

Restraint and Seclusion of NSW Children

The new Mental Health Act does not cover and provide protections against the use of mechanical restraint (the use of belts, harnesses, manacles, straps, etc.) and chemical restraint (the use of psychiatric drugs to subdue and control) or seclusion, leaving these traumatic and abusive procedures in place without legal safeguards. The Act allows for the use of reasonable force and the administration of sedatives while transporting someone to a mental health facility, which could constitute chemical and physical restraint. Instead of legal protections covered by law, restraint usage is covered under a NSW Health Policy Directive, compliance of which is a condition of subsidy for public health organisations. Private health organisations do not have to adhere to this Policy Directive but are expected to have policies in place. In 2009/10 there were 6,522 seclusions in NSW psychiatric facilities. The Mental Health Act needs to provide legal safeguards for restraint and seclusion, including prohibiting the use of punitive restraint. Both chemical and physical restraint must be prohibited for use on children, pregnant women and the elderly.

Children can be Involuntary Detained and Treated Without Parental Consent

The new Act still allows for children to be involuntarily detained and treated without parental consent. Parents will not able to discharge their involuntarily detained child and parental consent is not needed for further detainment or treatment including psychiatric drugs, restraint, seclusion and electroshock. While this situation is abhorrent enough, parents who wish to appeal to a Tribunal to have their child discharged have no guarantee that an appeal will result in the child allowed to return home. Of the 4,130 individuals the Tribunal reviewed in 2011/12 after their initial detention, only 50 were discharged (1.2%). Another 581 were discharged on a legal order to receive drugs/treatment at home.

Alternatives

There is no doubt that some children who are troubled require special care. But they should be given holistic, humane care that improves their condition. Institutions should be safe havens where children and adults voluntarily seek help for themselves or their child without fear of indefinite incarceration or harmful and terrifying treatment. They need a quiet and safe environment, good nutrition, rest, exercise and help with life’s problems. Extensive medical evidence proves that underlying and undiagnosed physical illnesses can manifest as psychiatric symptoms and therefore should be addressed with the correct medical treatment, not psychiatric techniques. Studies show that once the physical condition is addressed, the mental symptoms can disappear. With proper medical treatment and real help people can lead healthier, happier lives.

Please Urgently Visit, Phone, Fax, email the Members of the Legislative Council
and the Ministers listed below.

Members of the Legislative Council: You can contact any or all of them as each one represents all of NSW. Their offices are at Parliament House in Sydney. To obtain their contact details:

  1. Google NSW Parliament at: www.parliament.nsw.gov.au
  2. Click on “Members” in the Legislative Council box
  3. Click on “All members of council” at the top of the page

Also contact:

  • The Premier: The Hon. Michael Baird, Level 40, Governor Macquarie Tower, 1 Farrer Place, Sydney 2000 – Phone: (02) 9228 5239 – Fax: (02) 9228 3935 – Email: http://www.premier.nsw.gov.au/
  • The Minister for Mental Health: The Hon. Jai Travers Rowell, MP, Level 31 Governor Macquarie Tower, 1 Farrer Place, Sydney NSW 2000 – Phone: (02) 9228 5246 – Fax (02) 9228 5876 – Email: office@rowell.minister.nsw.gov.au
  • The Minister for Health: The Hon. Jillian Skinner, Level 33 Governor Macquarie Tower, 1 Farrer Place, Sydney NSW 2000 – Phone:(02) 9228 5229 – Fax (02) 9228 5877 – Email: office@skinner.minister.nsw.gov.au
  • The Shadow Minister for Health: The Hon. Walter Secord, Parliament House 6 Macquarie Street, Sydney, NSW 2000 – Phone:(02) 9230 2111 – Email: walt.secord@parliament.nsw.gov.au

The current Act and new amendments to this Act can be found on these links. You will need to read the amendments with the existing Act.

  1. http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/nswbills.nsf/131a07fa4b8a041cca256e610012de17/2fa7403d0f88e 4d5ca257d7100183c3c?OpenDocument
  2. http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/mha2007128/

For more information contact CCHR on: Email: national@cchr.org.au or Phone: 02 9964 9844.

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