Shelving of Mental Health Act reform a "profound betrayal" of people living with mental illness

07 November 2023

Today's King's Speech did not mention the Mental Health Bill. This means that the Mental Health Act, the legislation which allows for people to be detained and treated without their consent while in mental health crisis, will not be reformed before the next general election as promised.

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said:  

“The Mental Health Act is a crucial piece of legislation that keeps people safe when they are unwell and in crisis. In doing so, it removes rights that many of us take for granted – detaining people, often against their will, and stripping away choices over treatment. Now forty years old, the legislation has failed to keep pace with the world we live in, and the need to protect people while respecting their wishes and dignity. The act in its current form also exacerbates racial injustice, seeing a disproportionate number of Black men detained under its powers.  

“Aware that progress does not always follow a straight path, we remain committed to reform. That means that we must take the sadness and anger we feel today, and channel it into our efforts to bring about change.” 

Zoe Hazel, 32 from Ramsgate in Kent has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder/EUPD and has experience of being detained under the Mental Health Act:

“If you’re detained under the Mental Health Act, you don’t really have a say in where your treatment is heading and what kind of medication you take, even if it’s making you feel worse. You have to do what you’re told and that can compound your distress. It feels really dehumanising to have your rights and choices taken away from you. I might be unwell but I’m still me, and not having a voice is so hard. That’s why reform of the Mental Health Act is so important to me.

“People deserve better when they’re so unwell. So many of us with lived experience have put our hearts and souls into the campaign for reform. It’s hard to put into words how important it is, and how amazing it would feel to finally see the Mental Health Act reformed.

“So many people will feel let down that we have to wait longer for reform. It feels like we don’t matter, that the government don’t think people severely affected by mental illness are important enough, that change isn’t urgent even though it’s well overdue. I’ll never stop campaigning, but it feels like a real setback after all the work we’ve been doing.”

Jez, 40 from the West Midlands, has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and has experience of being detained under the Mental Health Act.

“I’ve been sectioned several times under the act and there’s always a theme of frustration. It’s partly because you’re not told much about what’s happening and why. It would be powerful to have more choice and say in your treatment, reform could mean people have a better experience of treatment and a faster recovery.

“Being part of one of the consultation groups that gave recommendations to help shape reform was a really positive experience. Many of the insights I shared were dots that connected to other people’s struggles. I could see patterns and things that really resonated with my experience, such as the amount of Black people who are being treated under the Mental Health Act and the reasons which led to them being detained.

“It would be amazing to see the Mental Health Act reformed, not just for me but for everyone else going through that suffering caused by the outdated legislation and the way it’s designed. Change would make a difference.

“I’m really disappointed and perplexed that we have to wait longer for reform because the case is so clear that the legislation isn’t up to date. Irrespective of who we are or where we’re from, if you’re not right in your thoughts and feelings and you don’t feel listened to, the prospect of recovery can feel distant. Reform of the Mental Health Act should be a priority.”

Karl, 35 from Manchester, supported the campaign for reform as a carer:

“Through my Dad’s experience, I unfortunately saw how marginalised a lot of Black males are when they’re in the mental health system. He felt untrusting of services; he knew he had needs and that they weren’t being met. If services had met his mental health needs first, he would never have been criminalised as he was. As soon as they saw the lack of capacity they spoke for him, and he had no say in what was happening. It was an awful experience for him, and shocking to see how he was treated when he needed help and support.

"What happened to my Dad has happened to countless young people I’ve gone on to work with and it always comes back to this outdated bill that’s not actually protecting the people it’s supposed to be representing.”