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By Medicines Discovery Catapult

‘Far too many’ have been needlessly traumatized by ‘archaic’ Mental Health Act

3 min read

Neil Coyle MP writes that he hopes that his mental health debate can show that there is a strong commitment across Parliament to reform care.

Today I am leading the first parliamentary debate on reform of the Mental Health Act since Professor Sir Simon Wessely published his Independent Review on it last December.

The Mental Health Act in England and Wales can force people to be treated for a mental health condition without their consent and even detain people for treatment to take place: ‘sectioning’. There were almost 50,000 detentions last year – an increase of 47% in the last decade. There are too few safeguards in the current system and broad support for reform.

Theresa May commissioned the Independent Review, asking Professor Wessely in 2017 to address rising rates of detention, the disproportionate impact on people from Black and Minority Ethnic groups and the fact that the rights people have under the Act are out of step with modern thinking on mental health. 

My mum has schizophrenia and, as a result, has been subject to the powers under the Mental Health Act more times than I can remember.

I believe that there are times when society and the state need to step in to care for people at a point when they are very unwell and could harm themselves or, much more rarely, other people. However, society and the state then take on responsibilities to ensure they guarantee anyone who might be treated under the Mental Health Act will be given as much choice and autonomy, and the fewest restrictions, that their condition allows.

That is not the case at the moment. 

The idea of being detained under the Mental Health Act may seem extreme, but there are over 21,000 people who right now are either detained under the Act or are receiving compulsory treatment under its powers in the community.

When you think about how much our understanding of mental ill health has progressed in just in the last decade, it feels archaic that under the Mental Health Act people have barely any legal say over their treatment.  They don’t get to choose which relatives or friends are involved in their care. They don’t get to refuse medications which have severe, negative side effects even if alternative treatments are available. Far too many people say that their experience under the Act has been needlessly traumatic as a result.     

In the seven months since the final report of the Independent Review was published, the Act will have been used thousands of times. It will have been used many thousands of times more by the time the Government publishes the White Paper it has promised by the end of the year.

Our politics is in a state of flux at the moment. There are fundamental disagreements on many issues but I hope that the mental health debate today can show that there is a strong commitment across Parliament to reform care. We all want laws that respect people’s rights and that people with mental health conditions and their families feel they can trust. The Mental Health Act is out of date and a commitment to reforming would be a welcome priority for the new Government.

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