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Int J Ment Health Nurs. 2007 Aug;16(4):247-56.

How involuntary commitment impacts on the burden of care of the family.

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St. Vincents Mental Health Service, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.


Little research has examined how, or if, involuntary commitment has impacted on the burden experienced by the family. This paper reports a qualitative study which explored how involuntary commitment under the Mental Health Act (MHA) 2000 in Queensland, Australia impacted on families of people with mental illness. Family members of a person with a mental illness, under involuntary commitment at the time or in the previous 12 months, participated in focus groups. Thematic analysis was used to determine the themes. It was apparent from the views of the family that the use of the involuntary commitment was influenced greatly by the pressures experienced by the mental health services (MHS). The MHA did little to assist the family in gaining access to MHS. It was not until after the family made repeated attempts that they were taken seriously. Often the family had few options other than to use deceit and threats to obtain the necessary treatment required. In view of this, the inherit nature of what involuntary commitment implies for persons under it, such as refusing treatment and management difficulties, indicates the family with such an individual experience more hardship in trying to obtain assistance for that person. Thus, the MHA in Queensland has not met its goals of increasing access to MHS. Family members perceive that they were not being listened to and their concerns were not acted upon. The current culture of the MHS appears to serve, to a large degree, to estrange the family from the consumer making relationships difficult and time-consuming to repair. The mental health profession is urged to consider the culture within their workplace and move towards constructive involvement of the family.

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