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Australia: Mental Health - A Right Gone Wrong

Mental Health - A Universal Right Gone Wrong

Australia is in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when measures of our community’s Mental Health are analyzed.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed in 1948 states: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person” (Article 3) and further “The right to social security and the realization …of those rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality” (Article 22).

Just one month ago the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists met in Sydney to consider drastic industrial action to highlight the acute shortage of beds and rehabilitation services for those with mental illnesses.

Louise Newman, Chair of the NSW Branch of the College of Psychiatrists made this point: “We've now got to the situation where community safety, the rights of patients and the rights of their carers are actually being compromised by what is a systemic problem and the failure of Government to address an immediate crisis.”

Add to this the specific concerns about the mental health of Indigenous Australians and those who’ve come to Australia as Refugees and Asylum Seekers and the urgency of the situation multiplies.

“The community needs to have a good look at the state of its mental health now. It has reached a crisis point,” said Maqsood Alshams, a Member of the Organizing Committee of the Conference “Human Rights and Mental Health in the political context of contemporary Australia” to be held at the NSW Parliament House on Monday, 08 March 2004.

Indigenous Australians and Asylum Seekers are among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in Australia. Seventy percent of Asylum Seekers have experienced severe trauma before arriving in Australia. The trauma is exacerbated by a prolonged, indefinite stay in detention.

It’s not surprising therefore that post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety are common and they have a knock on effect to physical health.

“Given my own experience of prolonged and indefinite detention, I was surprised by the attitude of the community and Government Departments. It was a shock to realize that in a rich, developed country such as Australia, the protection of one’s Mental Health was still not seen as a fundamental Human Right,” said Mr Alshams.

The March 8 conference jointly organized by S A V E - Australia Inc, ANTaR, A Just Australia and Edmund Rice Centre, will present the perspectives of detainees, politicians, mental health experts and Indigenous Australians.

Prominent speakers include the Hon Dr Carmen Lawrence MHR, Sr Susan Connelly RSJ, Ms Lillian Holt, Mr Craig Sanroque, Dr Eileen Pittaway, Dr Louise Newman, Sen Andrew Bartlett.

Mr Alshams and other speakers and organizers of the conference are available for media comments.

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