A Mental Health Act to put the person front and centre
While the public debate about mental illness has accelerated, the laws surrounding detention have remained largely unchanged. In this blog for Mental Health Awareness Week, Will from our campaigns team (pictured) looks at the Mental Health Act and why we are calling for it to be reformed.
The Mental Health Act is the law which governs the detention of people with mental illness in hospital and their treatment without consent (this is sometimes called being ‘sectioned’). The Act is nearly 35 years old. The Act determines whether your liberty will be taken away, and when you will be given treatment in hospital even if you refuse it.
It was conceived at a time when people with a mental illness weren’t allowed to become MPs, and when mental health inpatients weren’t allowed to vote. Thankfully, attitudes have come a long way since the 1980s. But this antiquated law still has very real consequences, and it’s out of touch with how people living with mental illness should be treated.
Detentions under the Act rose by 47% over the last ten years, so we know that more people than ever are relying on the Act to protect them when they are at their lowest point.
People who have been detained under the Act have long been telling us that it failed to protect their rights and dignity, and that they were kept out of decisions about their own care.
Rethink Mental Illness conducted research for the Mental Health Alliance which 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. Carers, families, and friends struggle to get involved in the care of their loved one because of the outdated legislation. And choices made in advance aren’t treated in the same way as they are for physical health.
This must change.
Thanks to years of campaigning by Rethink Mental Illness and others, the government has commissioned an Independent Review of the Act, which has now set out the clear need for change. The Review’s Interim Report should be required reading for politicians, and their task now must be to commit to reforming this important but outdated legislation.
We want to see a Mental Health Act that puts the person front and centre, ensuring that they are informed, treated with dignity and respect, and able to make meaningful choices about what happens to them.
We’ll be working hard to make sure that the Independent Review’s work reflects the concerns and needs of everyone severely affected by mental illness, and that the government commits to change this crucial legislation.
We need you to email your MP to ask them to call on the Government to commit to reforming the Mental Health Act.