Targeting isolation and restraint in mental health facilities

Posted on September 16, 2013

Most developed countries have laws that permit the detention and treatment of individuals with severe mental health problems without their consent. Practices such as restraint and solitary confinement (often referred to as “seclusion”) are sometimes used to manage certain behaviours.

Earlier this year, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, called for:

"an absolute ban on all coercive and non-consensual measures, including restraint and solitary confinement of people with psychological or intellectual disabilities … in all places of deprivation of liberty, including in psychiatric and social care institutions."

While the statement is not legally binding in Australia, it indicates that, from a human rights perspective, these practices are no longer acceptable.

The term restraint is more difficult to define as it can refer to:

- physical restraint: where bodily force is used to control a person’s freedom of movement

- chemical restraint: where medication is given primarily to control a person’s behaviour, not to treat a mental health problem or physical condition

- mechanical restraint: where a device (such as straps, safety vests or mittens) is used to control a person’s freedom of movement.

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