Our new campaign: Act for Mental Health
Rethink Mental Illness is campaigning to reform the Mental Health Act. Read on to find out what the Mental Health Act is, why it needs to change, and how you can be part of a campaign to improve the rights of people detained under it.
What is the Mental Health Act?
The Mental Health Act 1983 is the law which sets out when a person can be detained and treated in hospital against their wishes (also known as being ‘sectioned’).
For this to happen, health professionals must agree that a person has a mental illness which requires them to stay in hospital and that their mental health puts their safety, or the safety of others at risk
Different sections of the Mental Health Act are designed to do different things, and the rights of a person detained under the Act depend on which section they are detained under. However, everyone detained has a right to appeal, and most people have the right to get help from an Independent Mental Health Advocate (IMHA), someone that helps them to tell staff about their concerns and finds out what their rights are.
Click here to find out more about the Mental Health Act
Problems with the Act
While there is strong support for the Act’s main purpose - to keep people safe when they are very unwell - there are also concerns that this legislation, which is now almost 35 years old, is outdated and in need of significant change.
Our key concerns:
- The Mental Health Act is the only piece of healthcare legislation which assumes that people cannot make meaningful choices about their care and treatment. For example, anyone detained under the Act can be given treatment even if they don’t want it. Evidence shows that being involved in the care and treatment you receive can lead to a faster recovery and discharge from hospital, which can help people to lead an independent life back in their community.
- Serious concerns about the Act are widespread among those with direct experience of it. Research conducted by Rethink Mental Illness for the Mental Health Alliance found that 61% of previously-detained people, and 41% of professionals involved in treating them, felt that people are not currently treated with dignity when detained under the Mental Health Act. 86% felt that it was very important that people be allowed to specify people close to them to be involved in decisions about their care and treatment.
- The way that the Act involves carers, family and friends in supporting their loved ones needs to change. Currently the “Nearest Relative”, who has some rights to be informed and involved, is selected from a hierarchical list of relatives. As family relationships can be complicated, this often results in inappropriate people being given control over the treatment and care of the person detained. Both those who have been detained and carers tell us that the way families are involved could be vastly improved.
The Independent Review
In response to our research, campaigning, and the experiences people have shared with us and others about being detained under the Act, the Prime Minister announced an Independent Review of the Mental Health Act late last year. The Review will look at how the Act is used and how it can work better for everyone that it affects.
The Review team recently published an important report outlining what they have found so far and where their recommendations for improving the Act are likely to go. The report confirms what we have long known: that there are serious problems with the Mental Health Act. It puts to bed any arguments about whether or not the Act is working well - it isn’t, and change is needed.
The Review will continue to get the views of people detained under the Act, as well as carers, and relevant professionals, through a series of consultations, focus groups and events before making a final set of recommended changes towards the end of 2018.
Rethink Mental Illness is working closely with the Review team to make sure it reflects the needs of people severely affected by mental illness.
Act for Mental Health
Our new campaign - Act for Mental Health – will be putting pressure on MPs to ensure they commit to reforming the Mental Health Act. The Review's recent report highlights the problem - now we need MPs to commit to reform the Mental Health Act. Will you ask your MP to sign a parliamentary petition, called an Early Day Motion (EDM)?
The more MPs that sign the EDM, the more will become aware of this issue. It is the first step towards changing a law that doesn’t reflect how society should treat people with mental illnesses.
This is a unique opportunity - we cannot improve the Mental Health Act without your help.
Take action today by emailing your MP.