An analysis of mental health care in Australia from a social justice and human rights perspective, with special reference to the influences of England and the United States of America, 1800-2004

PhD Thesis

Ibell, Bernadette Mary. (2004). An analysis of mental health care in Australia from a social justice and human rights perspective, with special reference to the influences of England and the United States of America, 1800-2004 [PhD Thesis].
AuthorsIbell, Bernadette Mary
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The aim of this thesis is to analyze mental health care in Australia from a social justice and human rights perspective, in order to demonstrate that social justice as a philosophical manifestation of justice and fairness, is an essential ingredient in the theory and practice of mental health care. It is contended that the needs of the mentally ill would be most appropriately answered by the utilization of a Natural Law model, based on Finnis's Natural Law theory. The Scope of the Thesis.The needs and care of the mentally ill are discussed, together with the treatment meted out to these vulnerable members of society since, approximately, the year 1800. Neither the criminally insane, nor the intellectually disabled are included in this discourse. Each group of people merits a thesis on its own: criminal insanity requires a debate to include the history, psychiatric and legal approaches to the subject, and current management of the insane. The intellectually disabled are not mentally ill; their ability to function as all round, naturally competent individuals is diminished by an inadequacy and/or impairment of their intellectual capacities. The needs of these two groups are far too broad and demanding to be included within the current thesis. Rationale for the Timeframe The timeframe, 1800 until 2004, has been established because it approximates to the transition from the end of the Classical through the Modern Age to the Post Modern Age, together with the predominance of Enlightenment philosophical theories, and the development of a scientific approach to medicine. Further, many politico-economic and social changes were taking place, associated with the Industrial Revolution. All are shown to have affected the introduction of asylumdom, and the institutionalization of those unable to participate actively in the industrial workforce.;Of significant importance to the development of institutionalization for such marginal groups is the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham. Bentham espoused Classical Utilitarianism which will be shown to believe that the ultimate standard of utility is not the individual's happiness but the greatest amount of happiness altogether. The thesis will demonstrate that this philosophical view prevailed from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, with Benthamism influencing the sequestration of the unemployable into institutional life. Development of the Thesis.The thesis is developed against a background of prevailing philosophical, and other changes as stated above, including the medicalization of mental illness and the development of psychiatry as a branch of medicine. There is manifestation of many social injustices to those incarcerated in the asylum in all three countries under consideration: England, USA, and Australia. It is demonstrated that social justice and human rights of their work forces were disregarded by many employers at the time of the Industrial Revolution. Such values were, therefore, unlikely to prevail with regard to the mentally ill. Asylumdom continued with few changes in its practices until after World War II. It is shown that the predominance of post Enlightenment theories, together with further politico-economic, social and pharmaceutical revolutionary change followed the Second World War. Encouraged also by the founding of the United Nations and World Health Organizations as well as provision of the Declaration of Human Rights, circumstances led to the process of de-institutionalization of the mentally ill. The latter were decanted with apparently unseemly haste into a community ill prepared for such a change, and with little evidence of infra- structure to support the move. Need to conduct a National Inquiry. There was, then, a need to investigate what was now an overt issue of mental health care.;The two subsequent inquiries by the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council, (AHMAC) and the Burdekin Report, both focused on social justice issues, and addressed epidemiological, economic, sociological and justice considerations. Within the thesis, both investigations are critiqued against a Natural Law model, using Finnis's Natural Law theory. It is demonstrated that contrary to Enlightenment principles of social justice as described by Miller, such a theory is eminently practical, and answers the needs of all members of the community, providing not merely 'the greatest happiness for the greatest number' but the common good of all Conclusion. Evidence shows that such a Natural Law theory is required to give a firm foundation to the needs of the mentally ill, especially at a time when relativism, economic rationalism and negative aspects of globalization prevail. Without such a basis the mentally ill are left insecure, uncertain and adrift in a world uncaring of their plight, while all the earnest exhortations espoused by Reports remain platitudes, subject to the whims of whatever government is in power. Our responsibilities to all our fellow human beings demand better from us than this.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research GroupSchool of Philosophy
Final version
Publication dates
Online01 Jul 2004
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