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Mental health conference to herald historic new legislation in Northern Ireland

By Victoria O'Hara

New legislation in Northern Ireland will help to end discrimination against people with mental health problems, a major world conference will be told today.

Experts from around the globe are attending the sixth World Congress on Mental Health and Deafness at Queen's University.

The four-day event, the first congress to be held in the UK, has attracted 400 delegates.

The theme is Pathway To Rights – reflecting the right of deaf people to equality in mental health care.

Professor Roy McClelland of Queen's is one of the international speakers – including top academics – who will highlight Northern Ireland's new Mental Capacity Bill, which has been heralded as "historic" and a global first.

It will be the first piece of legislation in the world to give everyone – whether or not they have mental health problems – equal decision-making rights about their treatments.

Prof McClelland, as former chairman of the Bamford Review, has been spearheading the new legislation, which should start its passage through the Assembly early next year.

"This is a historic Bill – one we hope will pave the way to similar legislation being introduced around the world," he said.

"Currently, people with mental health problems may be detained and forced to have treatments against their will.

"Their capacity to consent or refuse to consent is not, under current legislation, a necessary criterion.

"When this new Act is passed it will mean that everyone, including potentially vulnerable groups like deaf people and the elderly, will have the right to accept or refuse treatment, unless it is established they do not have the capacity to make the relevant decision."

Delegates include eight world-class speakers on mental health and deafness issues.

Junior minister Jonathan Bell MLA welcomed them to the city during an official opening ceremony last night at Belfast City Hall.

It's being hosted by the European Society for Mental Health and Deafness in collaboration with QUB and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The keynote speaker is Dr Liisa Kauppinen, winner of the United Nations Prize for Human Rights in 2013.

Others include deaf lawyer Dr Michael Schwartz, who has just received a Fulbright Award to study at QUB, and Prof Dr Jan van Dijk, who has just been knighted in The Netherlands for his services to deaf people with autism.

Brian Symington, president of the committee which brought the congress to Belfast and campaigner for deaf people, said: "The congress has attracted experts from around the world and delegates from Mexico, Japan, Australia and Canada – we are delighted that they have come to Belfast to shine a light on important issues with regard to mental illness and deafness."

The congress runs until Friday at Riddel Hall in Queen's.

Background

The sixth World Congress on Mental Health and Deafness is being held at Queen's University. It is the first time the four-day event has been staged in the British Isles and has attracted 400 delegates. The theme is Pathway To Rights – reflecting the right of deaf people to equality in mental health care. Delegates include eight world-renowned speakers on mental health and deafness issues.

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