Background: Mental health advance directives support service users' autonomy and provide a voice in their care choices when they may not have capacity to give informed consent. New Zealand's Southern District Health Board has recently introduced advanced directives in mental health services.
Method: Completed advance directives (n = 53) and additional demographic data were accessed from clinical records.
Analysis: Each advance directive was read and analysed by three members of the research team. The advance directive instrument has eight possible fields which could be completed, covering such topics as who should be contacted in a crisis; people service users do, or do not, want involved in their treatment; what service users would, or would not like to have happen should they become unwell; management of personal affairs; other specific preferences; and provision of further relevant information. The number of preferences stated in each field was also calculated.
Results: The advance directives provided expressions of preferences which were personally meaningful for service users and provided practical guidance for clinicians. Service users expressed mainly positive preferences, though some expressed negative treatment preferences, and many service users expressed preferences relating to personal affairs. Friends, family members and clinicians were nominated as preferred contacts in a crisis.
Conclusions: Service users will engage with advance directives if supported to do so. This study's results should help promote the wider availability of advance directives in New Zealand and the current reform of our mental health legislation.