Our work on the Mental Health Act

Rethink Mental Illness has been campaigning to improve the Mental Health Act since the 1980s. The Act allows people to be detained and treated without their consent if their mental illness means they pose a risk to themselves or others. These laws are vital but the Act is badly out of date as it assumes people with mental illness shouldn't have a say in their treatment, or how their loved ones are involved in their care. We have been campaigning to change that.

Rethink Mental Illness has produced key research which led to the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act in 2018. Our work has centred on the experiences of people that have been detained under the Act as well as their carers and loved ones. They have helped to shape our campaign by identifying key problems with the Act and played a central role in raising awareness and influencing MPs and the Government.

A Mental Health Act fit for tomorrow

In 2017 we were commissioned by Mental Health Alliance to conduct the largest survey into the Mental Health Act. The results were clear: the Act is no longer fit for purpose and it needs to be reformed. Our survey included the views of over 8,000 people who use mental health services, carers, and professionals working in mental health. We compiled our findings into a report A Mental Health Act fit for tomorrow. Our main findings were:

  • 49% of people felt that those detained under the Act aren’t treated with dignity
  • 50% said that they wouldn’t be confident that their human rights would be protected under the Mental Health Act if they were detained
  • 72% disagreed that the rights of people living with mental illness are protected and enforced as effectively as those for people living with a physical illness
  • 86% of people felt that it was very important that people be allowed to specify those close to them to be involved in decisions about their care.

Andrea has been held under the Mental Health Act. She said: "I did not feel like my rights were respected at all when I was held under the Mental Health Act... Recently I had a very depressive episode, but I wouldn’t go to hospital because I couldn’t cope with being sectioned again". 

A Mental Health Act fit for tomorrow made a powerful case for the Government to carry out a comprehensive review of the Mental Health Act.

No voice, no choice

We worked with Adelphi Research UK on how we can make the Mental Health Act more person centred and fit for the future in our report No Voice, No Choice. Being detained under Mental Health Act shouldn’t mean that you lose your dignity or the chance to have a say in your care and treatment, but we know that all to often this is the case.

Our research, based on focus groups and interviews with people that had been detained under the Act, carers and clinicians, found that there was a feeling that detention under the Mental Health Act took a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, with little focus on the individual needs and circumstances of people who are detained.

Many people told us that their experience of the Act was similar to being imprisoned rather than being cared for, with a complete loss of control over their lives. We believe this is unacceptable.

I was reflecting back on it and I realised how weird it was that I had to earn back my shoes. I can’t stress enough how little things make a difference when there’s a few key people involved in your care and they don’t have your best interests at heart.” Rebecca.

Choice, involvement and control are vital principles that should be at the heart of the care people who are detained under Mental Health Act receive. Many people felt they should be able to make choices about the sort of care they receive in advance, and that those choices should be respected.

No Voice, No Choice showed what changes could be made to improve the Mental Health Act as well as how clinical practice and culture could adapt to improve the experiences of people detained under it.

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