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New Zealand’s legislative framework for mental health and addiction is dispersed across several legislative instruments. Two primary statutes, the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 (the Mental Health Act) and the Substance Addiction (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 2017 (the Substance Addiction Act), set out the circumstances in which people can be compulsorily assessed and treated for a ‘mental disorder’ and severe substance addictions, respectively.

Other laws provide options for the compulsory care, treatment or detention of individuals with intellectual disabilities who have been found unfit to stand trial or convicted of an imprisonable offence or individuals found not guilty by reason of insanity. New Zealand also has several rights-based statutes and is a party to the main international human rights instruments relevant to mental health and addiction law.

Throughout this Inquiry, many people shared their experiences of being held and compulsorily treated under mental health legislation. Submitters described the trauma of compulsory detention and treatment, the loss of their right to participate in decisions about their treatment and recovery, the adverse impacts of forced medication, and the harm and powerlessness they experienced through practices of seclusion and restraint and prolonged use of the Mental Health Act. Many submitters across the country emphasised the need for New Zealand legislation – and the practices enabled under it – to comply with international and domestic human rights instruments. In particular, national consumer groups and individuals (including through the Wellbeing Manifesto and the Changing Minds survey) resoundingly called for the urgent review and replacement of the Mental Health Act.215

In this chapter, we address New Zealand’s legislative framework for mental health and addiction and the need for change.

215  M O’Hagan. 2018. Wellbeing Manifesto for Aotearoa New Zealand: A submission to the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction (prepared for PeerZone and ActionStation). www.wellbeingmanifesto.nz/(external link); Changing Minds. 2018. The Voices of People with Lived Experience and their Whānau: Submission to the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry Panel. https://changingminds.org.nz/mental-health-and-addiction-inquiry-submission/(external link).

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