Defining Madness

Monograph 12

Defining Madness

Shea, P.

(RRP $32.95 including GST) ISBN 1876067120

Michael Sexton, SC, Solicitor-General for NSW describes this title as a "fascinating history and analysis of mental health law in New South Wales from its earliest days ... a lucid and scholarly account of the medico-legal concept of mental illness. Members of both professions and many others besides will profit from [Dr Shea's] research and have a much clearer understanding of the importance of the policy issues involved and the inherent difficulty of attempting to solve them in the words of a statute." Dr Shea focuses on the central point of tension in mental health legislation - the need to balance an individual's right to liberty and privacy with the need to protect the general community, including members of the individual's family. In NSW that debate has been conducted largely through the definition of a 'mentally ill person'. A person admitted as 'a mentally ill person' can be confined for the length of their treatment. The definition, accordingly, raises a special need for a system of safeguards based upon generally agreed, if not universal, principles. History has been to the contrary with complex, continuing and often emotionally heated debates. Michael Sexton concludes that: "Far from being a dry legislative history, this is an absorbing account of the attempt to set out the circumstances that would justify a person being involuntarily detained in a mental hospital."

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