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Defining Madness

Defining Madness

By Peter Shea

CONTENTSREVIEWS

". . . Dr Shea's fascinating history and analysis of mental health law in New South Wales from its earliest days a lucid and scholarly account of the medico-legal concept of mental illness. Members of both professions and many others besides will profit from his research and have a much clearer understanding of the importance of the policy issues involved and the inherent difficulty of attempting to solve them in the words of a statute. ...

Far from being a dry legislative history, this is an absorbing account of the attempt to set out the circumstances that would justify a person being involuntarily detained in a mental hospital."
Michael Sexton SC, Solicitor-General for NSW

Dr Shea focuses on the central point of tension in mental health legislation - the need to balance an individual's right, in normal circumstances, to liberty and privacy, with the need to protect the general community including members of the individual's family.

In Australia that debate has been conducted largely through the definition of a "mentally ill person". A person admitted as "a mentally ill person" can be confined for the length of their treatment; the definition, accordingly, raises a special need for a system of safeguards.

Dr Shea charts the changes to the definition from Lunacy Act 1843 to the 1997 amendments to the Mental Health Act 1990. He discusses not only the various statutory provisions but also the numerous committee reports and parliamentary debates in which the issue is explored.


CONTENTS

Introduction
Definitions
The Early Years 1788-1843
1843-1898
1898-1958: The Last Lunacy Act to the First Mental Health Act
1958-1982
1982-1983
Judicial Interpretations
1983-1990
1990-1997
The Future

Bibliography/ Index

REVIEWS

"This concise yet comprehensive scholarly review of mental health law in NSW … will meet the needs of a very diverse readership. Lawyers and mental health professionals, … students in these and other disciplines, … the ordinary reader, … policy analysts, politicians and journalists …

There is a long and convoluted history around the development of the medico-legal concepts of mental illness and a mentally ill person. … Lawyers, civil libertarians, health workers, journalists, politicians, expert panels and worried citizens have gnawed at the gristly bone of this exceedingly complex legislation … Issues such as the individual's rights to freedom and privacy, protection of others from potential harm, duty of care and right to treatment have been argued over as societal attitudes change and with advances in science concerning diagnosis and treatment.

Peter Shea's careful and thorough review, illustrated by pertinent and sometimes bemused quotations from politicians and policy makers, is very readable."

Mental Health Matters, July 2001

"For health administrators, the book provides an excellent historical account of the organisation of psychiatric services in New South Wales, from before there were any, through to the post-deinstitutionalisation era.

... the book excels in its principal purpose, namely, to provide a lucid and accessible reference for everyone in the community who needs to understand and be able to apply the legal criteria for civil commitment to involuntary treatment for mental illness...

Those grateful for Dr Shea's work will include carers, consumers of mental health services, mental health lawyers, doctors and administrators.

Current Issues in Criminal Justice, July 2000

"This slim volume is a welcome part of the Institute of Criminology Monograph Series... It fills a gap for those requiring a clear overview of the way in which mental health law has developed, particularly in New South Wales, and it draws attention to the substance of the debates surrounding the concepts of 'mental illness', 'mental disorder' and 'mentally ill person'."

Psychiatry, Psychology & Law, April 2000

"This short book … focuses on an historical review of mental illness in New South Wales …

But it is far more than simply a history of the attempts of the legislature and judiciary to come to grips with the vexing problem of what is and what is not mental illness. Further, it highlights the problems encountered when a definition permits incarceration of a person and the deprivation of their liberty, when that definition itself contains uncertain and imprecise criteria.

For any person who imagines themselves as having an interest in the forensic side of the law, this is a very interesting book, written in a style which is easy to read and absorb. It will give any reader a greater understanding of the very difficult problems surrounding the identification of an adequate description of mental illness and of how questions of public policy have influenced most attempts at defining the term, in earlier legislation. It is highly recommended reading."

Law Society of Tasmania newsletter, June 2001

   

Published November 1999
Publisher Hawkins Press
Paperback/168pp
ISBN 9781876067120
Australian RRP $32.94
International Price $31.00
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Criminology & Policing - Criminology
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Institute of Criminology, Sydney, Monograph Series


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