Mental Health and Family Law - A Question of Degree
#7535 (In Topic #1546)
Federal Magistrate Judy Ryan wrote this paper in 2006. It is widely accepted that separation and divorce rank among life's most traumatic experiences and for adults there are increased rates of depression, substance abuse, suicidal behaviour and anxiety.
Mental Health and Family Law - A Question of Degree1
FEDERAL MAGISTRATE JUDY RYAN
IntroductionIt is widely accepted that separation and divorce rank among life's most traumatic experiences, for adults and children. In children there is an increased risk of acute distress, depression and behaviours that are often regarded as stemming from poor self esteem. For adults there are increased rates of depression, substance abuse, suicidal behaviour and anxiety.2 Thus it is not surprising that people who are vulnerable to mental illnesses appear reasonably frequently in family law courts. When it is raised, mental illness is often a pivotal issue in the determination of parenting cases, or the case is prepared as though it is. In property proceedings the issue usually centres on matters of capacity and future needs. In this paper I will discuss the applicable law for determination of cases involving mental illness including practice and procedure. Mental illness and the courts It is well accepted that people suffering from mental illnesses have experienced prejudice and discrimination in the community. They have been, and still are, the subjects of negative stereotypes and myths. Mental illness undoubtedly carries with it social stigma. It is for this reason, Richard Evans3 writes that the mentally ill require the protection of the legal system more than any other group in the community. Despite this, Evans argues that this protection is rarely afforded and as a consequence the legal system is perceived by many who suffer mental illness as prejudicial and oppressive. He argues that the community, to a large extent, misunderstands that mental illness affects individuals in different ways. In his article Evans adopts comments made by Helen Leeson from the Psychiatric Services Training Unit at the Department of Health and Community Service. She summarises numerous myths about mental illness in the community that also exist in the legal system. These myths and misconceptions are said to include:……
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