Proposal to involve families in treatment of mentally ill relatives

Last updated: 06-04-2021

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Proposal to involve families in treatment of mentally ill relatives

Minister for Mental Health Mary Butler is to propose new legislation next month to allow family members to be involved in the care of a relative receiving psychiatric treatment.

Ms Butler said she hopes to bring to Government draft legislation to give families and advocates a greater role in the mental health treatment of a person but only with their consent.

Andrew McGinley, husband of Deirdre Morley who was found not guilty by reason of insanity of the murder of her three children, criticised the Mental Health Act 2001 following the verdict.

He said the law “does not go far enough in ensuring family support structures for the patient are fully engaged and included by the mental health professionals treating our loved ones”.

The jury heard that Ms Morley did not reveal the extent of her mental illness to those closest to her and that she managed her own medication and treatment.

Mr McGinley said that had there been “a more inclusive and collaborative approach” between medical professionals and the family in her care, his children “would be alive today”.

Ms Morley suffocated her children Conor (9), Darragh (7) and Carla (3) at their Co Dublin family home on January 24th, 2020, before trying unsuccessfully to take her own life.

Declining to comment specifically on the case, Ms Butler said it was important that family members were involved “to the greatest extent possible in a person’s mental health treatment” but that the consent of the patient was required to involve a family member or advocate.

“I appreciate the importance of involving family members as much as possible in a person’s care and treatment, with the consent of the individual,” she said.

She added that she supported efforts to “enhance family member involvement through legislation and policy, and through mental heath provision.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said yesterday evening that the State would explore ways to allow advocacy and family inclusion in the treatment of psychiatric illness.

“It was a shocking, shocking event that hit the nation hard. I think we need to do everything we can to respond to this in an intelligent and sensitive way to try and prevent such very, very sad events from recurring in the future,” he said.

Ms Butler said that when it came to patient consent to involve family, mental health treatment was “addressed no differently to any other medical speciality,” but noted that Medical Council guidelines permitted doctors to disclose information about a person if they are a risk to others.

“Prediction of risk is not always easy,” she said.

The new legislation is expected to cover a recommendation of a 2015 expert group set up to review the 2001 Act that there should be “proactive encouragement for the patient at all times to involve a family member, carer or advocate in their care or treatment plan with their consent”.

Ms Butler said the Department of Health was “considering the role of advocacy and the role of family members” in mental health services in line with the expert group’s recommendations.

She expects to bring to Government draft legislation before the summer recess, updating the Mental Health Act in full, and to introduce the Bill in the Oireachtas this autumn.


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