Act for Mental Health: Our response to the interim report
Last year, following campaigning by Rethink Mental Illness supporters, the Government announced an independent review of the Mental Health Act. This review is looking at the problems with the Act and will make a series of recommendations on how to improve things.
The Mental Health Act is the legislation that says when and how you can be detained and treated without your consent if your mental illness means you are a risk to yourself or others. It is a powerful piece of legislation that saves lives, but it is badly out of date, remaining largely unchanged for almost 35 years.
The review is still only half way through but today it published an interim report laying out what has been found so far and where its recommendations are likely to go.
This landmark review confirms what we have long known: that there are serious problems with the Mental Health Act. People who have been detained under the Act have been telling us how it fails to protect their rights and dignity, and how they are kept out of decisions about their own care.
And because this important piece of legislation has no requirement to involve those being treated it can lead to a culture where listening to patients is seen as an optional extra.
We’ve heard from people who have been detained in hospital without being told why; and carers who weren’t told when their family members had made a suicide attempt; and people who felt that their experience was more like being punished than cared for, and so many more shocking stories.
At Rethink Mental Illness we believe that how we treat, support and care for people experiencing severe mental illness has reflects whether we are a just and compassionate society. Reading these stories, it begs the question: is this really how we want to treat people who are unwell?
The review’s interim report puts to bed arguments about whether or not the Act is working well: it isn’t, and change is definitely needed.
In recent years we have seen an increase in mental health awareness. However, the rising tide hasn’t lifted all boats. The review makes clear that those severely affected by mental illness are still being failed, especially by the outdated Mental Health Act.
This is an extremely significant report which starts a vital conversation about the Mental Health Act could be improved for everyone affected by it, particularly for people severely affected by mental illness and disadvantaged groups, including black men, who are disproportionately likely to be detained. It highlights the need for both changes to the law and to how the Act is used on the ground, recognising that these practical changes will be reliant on better funding.
Some areas that the Review has specifically flagged for potential change include; the tribunals that decide whether you should be discharged from hospital, Advance Decisions (that let you decide, ahead of time, to refuse specific treatment) which are often disregarded, and the outdated Nearest Relative function which gives you no say over who is involved if you become unwell.
Impressively little is left off the table. Crucially, this is just the interim report: there will still be lots of chances for people affected by mental illness to get involved and feed into the Review before its final report is published at the end of the year.
The need for change is clearly set out in the Report, and it should be required reading for politicians, whose task now must be to commit to reform this important but outdated legislation.
We want to see a Mental Health Act that puts the person front and centre, ensuring they are listened to, informed and able to a have a real say in what is happening to them.We will continue to work closely with the Review, which must keep listening to the voices of people who have been detained under the Act, as well as their families and friends.
Sign up to become a campaigner today - together we can make sure the Mental Health Act protects the very people it is there to support.