The effect of changes to Australian Capital Territory mental health legislation on rates of emergency detention

Australas Psychiatry. 2021 Jun;29(3):352-356. doi: 10.1177/1039856221992637. Epub 2021 Mar 18.


Objectives: The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) changed from the Mental Health (Treatment and Care) Act 1994 (ACT) to the Mental Health Act 2015 (ACT) on 1 March 2016. The objective was to find the association between legislative changes and detention rates.

Methods: A cross-sectional study of involuntary order rates in the period 3 years before the legislative change was undertaken. Chi-squared analysis was performed to compare proportions.

Results: There was a statistically significant decrease in the proportion of Psychiatric Treatment Orders (PTOs) over the two periods, which could be impacted by the change from a period of detention for 7 days to a period of detention of 11 days in Period 2. On the other hand, the total number of Emergency Actions (EAs) increased in Period 2, where ambulance officers could detain patients.

Conclusion: The change in mental health legislation in the ACT was associated with a change in detention rates, in particular a decrease in the proportion of PTOs and an increase in EAs. Further study needs to be undertaken, given changes to frontline supports since the study period ended.

Keywords: Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities; human rights; involuntary detention; mental Health Act.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Australian Capital Territory
  • Commitment of Mentally Ill
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Mental Health*