Mental health and justice: protecting and respecting people’s decisions

  • Date

    Fri 24 Nov 17

Professor Wayne Martin

The Essex Autonomy Project is part of an international research collaboration led by King’s College London which will address public policy challenges surrounding mental health and its interaction with human rights.

The Mental Health and Justice initiative, funded by Wellcome, brings together clinical experts, lawyers, philosophers, neuroscientists, social scientists and service users to address two conflicting duties that often arise when mental health meets justice: the duty to protect people when they can be vulnerable and the duty to respect autonomy.

Mental Health and Justice has six inter-related research strands. Professor Wayne Martin, from the School of Philosophy and Art History, will lead the ‘insight’ strand. This will consider the role of ‘insight’ in mental health care, a key concept when it comes to treatment decisions. How can a person who lacks awareness that they are unwell competently assess treatment options for an illness they do not recognise, and what legal guidelines should frame decisions on coercive treatments?

Project lead Dr Gareth Owen from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, has worked with the Essex Autonomy Project on a number of related projects.

He said: ‘Our research aims to take a fresh look at these conflicting duties, find novel solutions and a balance better fitted to contemporary life.

“This five-year project comes at a time of considerable change. Domestically, the Mental Health Act is being reviewed and we are interpreting our Mental Capacity Act further and further. Internationally, the challenge presses of a radical reading of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which would appear to see no role for mental health law. It is also a time of a new social interest in mental health and new energy to tackle old stigmas and break down stale assumptions.”

Dr Owen added: “This is a strong interdisciplinary collaboration with research leads across three faculties at King’s – the IoPPN, the Dickson Poon School of Law and the faculty of Social Science & Public Policy, as well as collaborators from the University of Essex. Complex health, social, ethical and legal problems benefit from an approach which takes in all of these perspectives, and it is a privilege to lead a project where such excellent scholars are so dedicated to working toward achieving a better balance.”

To find out more about the project, visit the new website.