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Does the Mental Health Act overlook the dignity and human rights of people with mental illness?

22 June 2017

The Mental Health Act is not working, says research published today by the Mental Health Alliance.

The research, the first of its kind, includes the views of over 8000 people who use mental health services, carers and professionals working in the field. Half of those who responded did not think that people are treated with dignity and respect under the Mental Health Act.

The Mental Health Alliance, which is made up of over 75 organisations working in the mental health sector including the British Psychological Society, commissioned the research.

The Alliance is calling on the government to act on its promise made in the run up to the general election to review the act, and ensure any reform takes into account the views expressed by those people it's there to protect.

Nicola Gale, President of the British Psychological Society, says:

"The Queen's speech promised that the government 'will begin to consider what further reform of mental health legislation is necessary'. This new research from the Mental Health Alliance emphasises how urgent the need for reform now is."

While a majority of respondents agreed that there are circumstances when being treated against your will in hospital may be necessary, the survey reveals deep concerns that people's dignity, autonomy and human rights are being overlooked.

Key findings from the survey, which was carried out by Rethink Mental Illness on behalf of the Mental Health Alliance, showed that:

  • 49 per cent of respondents disagreed that people are treated with dignity under the Mental Health Act
  • 50 per cent said they would not be confident that their human rights would be protected under the Mental Health Act if they were detained under it
  • 72 per cent disagreed that the rights of people living with mental illness are protected and enforced as effectively as those of people living with a physical illness
  • 86 per cent felt it was very important that people be allowed to specify people close to them to be involved in decisions.

The Mental Health Alliance is concerned that there are parts of the Act which are no longer acceptable in modern society. If you are sectioned under the Mental Health Act, for instance. your nearest relative is contacted and given a say over your treatment and detainment.

This 'nearest relative' is not the same as your next of kin and comes in a specific hierarchy starting with your spouse, then son or daughter, then father or mother. This means a relative you have a difficult relationship with can be given control of your health and you get no say in it.

Suzanne Hudson, chair of the Mental Health Alliance, said:

"The Mental Health Act is 34 years old, in which time there have been major changes in terms of the rise in mental health problems and detentions under the Act.

As it stands the Act is not fit for purpose, which is why we are urgently calling for the government to stick to its promise to review it, and take into consideration the thousands of people who voiced their concerns in the survey.

In this way, together we can protect the rights and improve care for some of the most vulnerable people in the health system."

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