Mental illness, the law and the news media: Competing rights and interests
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Mental health has become a major economic and political issue in Australia in recent decades. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) estimated that seven million Australians (45 per cent of the population aged 16-85 years) would experience a mental disorder over their lifetimes.1 An estimated three million Australians (20 per cent of the population aged 16-85 years) will experience symptoms of a mental disorder each year.2 Mental disorders accounted for 13 per cent of all diseases in Australia in 2003.3 The number of acute psychiatric beds in the nation's psychiatric and general hospitals had grown to more than 4,400 by 2008,4 and many of the patients were involuntary, having been committed to treatment under the state and territory mental health tribunal processes. All of this comes at considerable economic cost, with the AlHW estimating more than $5.8 billion, or $272 per Australian, was spent on mental health-related services during 2008-09.5 The Senate Select Committee on Mental Health noted that people with mental illness were over-represented in the criminal justice system and that the incidence of mental illness among the courts and prison populations in Australia and overseas was higher than in the broader community.6
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