The voice of lived experience in the Mental Health Act White Paper

11/08/2021

Early in 2021, Rethink Mental Illness were pleased to be commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care to undertake engagement with two distinct groups of people, in order to feed into the Mental Health Act White Paper. These two groups were people who had previously experienced detention under the Mental Health Act, and people who are currently detained under it. Our Policy Manager, Will Johnstone, explains a bit more about what this engagement found.

In order to speak to as many people as we could, and in as Covid-safe a manner as possible, we conducted online engagement groups. We created a panel of paid experts-by-experience to help us to translate the technical questions posed in the White Paper into accessible language, and to help shape the project throughout. We also asked YoungMinds to help by engaging children and young people with experience of detention under the Act, and have included a summary of their findings in the ‘Previously Detained’ report.

We held 23 sessions and engaged 106 people across both of these groups, and their experiences with the Mental Health Act have shaped the two reports which we are publishing today.

Our main findings surprised us, and demonstrate the value of thorough engagement on complex policy issues like the White Paper:

• We found high levels of support for most of the White Paper proposals.
• Both in terms of the general direction of travel (enhancing choice and involvement) and the specific proposals to achieve change.
• This support was balanced with high levels of scepticism that the ambition will be realised, and that meaningful reform to the Act is even possible.

That scepticism tended to stem from the many negative experiences people had experienced while detained under the Mental Health Act – ranging from a lack of therapeutic care to being discharged too early, with significant consequences. You can read about these experiences and the suggested changes to the Mental Health Act in these reports, or our organisational response.

  • This research also reinforced the importance of the NHS Long Term Plan in transforming community mental health services to prevent detentions from happening in the first place.

This research also reinforced the importance of the NHS Long Term Plan in transforming community mental health services to prevent detentions from happening in the first place. The publication of these reports is another step in the path towards reform of the Mental Health Act. The Department of Health and Social Care has taken these reports and our findings into account in assembling their recent response to the White Paper consultation, and committed to bringing forward legislation when Parliamentary time allows.

We will be listening to the experiences of people with direct experience of the Mental Health Act, and sharing their views and perspectives on what needs to change as we campaign for the reform of the Act, and look forward to bringing you further updates as this work progresses.

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