Health professionals challenge governments to update mental health legislation

Rosamund West

One in five Commonwealth member states has mental health legislation that was enacted before 1960, before modern medical treatments became available, a report has found.

These laws, dating back more than half a century, also predate many of the international human rights instruments that are now in force.

The report by the Commonwealth Alliance of Health Professionals (CAHP), ‘Mental Health: a Legislative Framework to Empower, Protect and Care’, was presented at the annual Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting Partners’ Forum in Geneva on 19 May.

It recommended that old legislation be reformed and that “Commonwealth member states must involve persons with mental disorders and care-givers, apart from other stakeholders, in the mental health law reform process”.

“Mental health legislation in many Commonwealth member states is out-dated and does not fulfil member states’ international human rights obligations,” the reports’ authors wrote.

Commonwealth Foundation Director Vijay Krishnarayan said: “While we recognise the importance of dialogue and gatherings like this we are much more interested in the action and consequences that follow.

“I particularly welcome the commitment by CAHP member organisations to follow up in countries where the need for improvements in mental health legislation has been recognised. It is very encouraging that regional organisations including CARICOM, SADC, WAHO and ECSA have already indicated an interest in the outcomes.”

The annual Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting took place ahead of the 66th World Health Assembly and the theme ‘Mental health: towards economic and social inclusion’ was explored in a number of discussions about stigmatisation of people with mental health challenges and the need for inclusion and participation in socio-cultural and economic activities.

The meeting also saw the launch of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Commonwealth Health Partnerships 2013 publication, featuring new research and articles on the subject of mental health. The book reflects some of the issues discussed at the meeting, such as the need to raise public awareness of mental health issues and improve access to mental health treatment.

About the author:

Rosamund West is a Staff Writer at Nexus Strategic Partnerships


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