Social workers to demand reform of mental health laws

By Noel Baker
Senior Reporter and Social Affairs Correspondent

The country’s social workers will today call for the urgent reform of the Mental Health Act, claiming that the current laws are not fit for purpose.

The Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW), which represents more than 4,000 social workers, said the current laws did not comply with international human rights law. Its call coincides with the launch by the Mental Health Commission of its strategic plan, entitled ‘Protecting People’s Rights’, which will set out the commission’s ambitions for the next three years.

Today’s IASW event at Blackhall Place in Dublin will include a range of speakers on issues including mental health tribunals and service user experiences of involuntary admission.

Ahead of the event, the association said the law in its current form it is “outdated, outmoded and is not based on a progressive, rights-based approach to mental health care”.

It said the current laws needed urgent review and that “serious attention needs to be paid to the human rights of mental health service users in terms of capacity and consent to treatment”.

“Advanced healthcare directives, for example, must be given a legislative basis to allow people using mental health services to have their express will and preferences followed through on if they are unable to advocate for themselves at any point.

“The key to progressive, recovery-focused mental health services is the need to hold the voice and experience of service users and their families at its core.

“Interactions with the legal system surrounding the mental health services can be difficult for both individuals and their supporters.

“People must be truly listened to and their wishes in relation to their mental health and recovery journey acknowledged.”

Following today’s event, the Social Workers in Adult Mental Health (SWAMH) group within the IASW will put together a position paper on the reform of the Mental Health Act 2001.

The IASW passed a motion in 2017 calling for the Government to establish a statutory social work service for vulnerable adults, warning there was no single agency responsible for their welfare.

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