Involuntary admission and treatment of mentally ill patients – the role and accountability of mental health review boards

M Swanepoel, S Mahomed


The involuntary admission or treatment of a mentally ill individual is highly controversial, as it may be argued that such intervention infringes on individual autonomy and the right to choose a particular treatment. However, this argument must be balanced with the need to provide immediate healthcare services to a vulnerable person who cannot or will not make a choice in his or her own best interests at a particular time. A study carried out in Gauteng Province, South Africa (SA), highlighted the fact that the annual rate of involuntary admissions increased by almost double from 2007 to 2008. This could indicate that healthcare providers are not treating patients without their consent only when this is absolutely necessary. Alternatively, it could indicate that healthcare professionals are more aware of the provisions of the Mental Health Care Act and relevant national policy guidelines. Or it could suggest that more patients are presenting with mental illnesses or disorders that require their involuntary admission. It remains for strategies to be developed that change negative perceptions and inequities for individuals with mental illness. Above all, the strategies should be underpinned by inalienable respect for mentally ill individuals – a concept that was blatantly disregarded in the Life Esidimeni case. In this article, we highlight the functions of mental health review boards and their accountability where involuntary admissions are concerned, while emphasising the protections for mentally ill persons as a vulnerable population group, as set out in the SA Constitution.

Authors' affiliations

M Swanepoel, Department of Jurisprudence, School of Law, College of Law, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

S Mahomed, Department of Jurisprudence, School of Law, College of Law, University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa

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South African Journal of Bioethics and Law 2021;14(3):89. DOI:10.7196/SAJBL.2021.v14i3.717

Article History

Date submitted: 2022-01-28
Date published: 2022-01-28

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