Over two years has now passed since the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act made a series of recommendations to Government to overhaul this outdated legislation which allows people with mental health problems to be held against their will (‘sectioned’) in certain circumstances. The Government has now published its White Paper and opened a public consultation process for people to give their views on reforms to the Act.
“We are pleased the Government has accepted the majority of the recommendations made in the Independent Review. This is just the beginning of what is now a long overdue process. At the moment, thousands of people are still subjected to poor, sometimes appalling, treatment, and many will live with the consequences far into the future. Our understanding of mental health has moved on significantly in recent decades but our laws are rooted in the 19th century. Change on the ground cannot come soon enough.
“It is reassuring to see that many of Mind’s concerns – and those of the people with experience of the Mental Health Act who we supported to feed into the Review – have been heard. We must now see as many people as possible with experience of mental health problems take part in the public consultation process, to make sure their voices and experiences are at the heart of reforms.
“The White Paper contains changes that should strengthen people’s rights, including:
“It’s really important that people who have been detained under the Mental Health Act, as well as their loved ones, feed into the consultation, by giving their views to help shape its reform and make sure nobody is else is subjected to appalling treatment going forward. Some communities - particularly Black men - are far more likely than white counterparts to be held against their will under the Act, often subjected to humiliating and life-threatening practices like physical and chemical restraint. That’s why it’s crucial the Government hears from people from different Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups, to make sure any changes work equally well for people from different cultural backgrounds, as well as taking steps to identify, address and tackle underlying and systemic racism that results in disproportionate detentions and use of force.
“As we face further restrictions in light of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re likely to see more people reach mental health crisis in coming months. It’s never been more critical to make sure people are properly supported and have their choices and dignity respected. These reforms have the potential to make a real difference to those in extremely vulnerable situations so should be robustly scrutinised and promptly introduced without further delay.”
"When you are a young black man with mental health problems – all these factors merge into a combination of discrimination and stigma, and this has always caused problems with the police. I was taken to the Priory, where I was under section for about two years. This is a really long time, especially at such a young age. When you’re in hospital, it’s because you’re unwell, but my experience of being sectioned made it feel more like being in a prison, being punished for doing something wrong. I repeatedly tried to take my own life. I was restrained so many times and it’s terrifying – once I had four people restrain me. I remember being tranquilized and put in an isolation room for six hours, adding to the feeling of being in a cold zoo.
“People should be treated with dignity and respect, even people who were able to make decisions they were still treated like they couldn’t. I think especially for people who spend years in a secure unit, there needs to be more resources to help them integrate back into society. Eventually I did get care, and pushed myself to get better, but I worry about other people in crisis. We really need people who’ve been detained – and especially Black men like me – to come forward and make sure their voices are heard, so that these reforms make an important difference to the Mental Health Act, and the care people receive when experiencing a mental health crisis.”
“I was born with XYY syndrome which makes it hard to learn, and I was bullied at college, which had a negative impact on my mental health. I’m black and 6ft 3 and I’ve been stopped by the police by six or seven times in the community – it’s unfair that this is more likely to happen because you are black and tall.
“One day I had a breakdown while walking along the street. The police tried to Taser me, and I was taken to a teenage secure unit where I was sectioned. I was restrained - which feels like a way of controlling you through force - you already feel scared and confused because you don’t understand what is going on - especially when you have mental health problems and a learning disability. After being restrained, I’d have nightmares which were scary, it’s like living it repeatedly.
“I wasn’t offered a choice about treatment, just sectioned and taken to hospital. It makes you feel like you’re not a person. Hospital staff don’t tend to understand learning disabilities and can treat you badly. Someone said ‘you don’t look like you have a learning disability’. Once I left hospital, nobody followed up with me. I think there needs to be more support in the community to make sure you’re doing ok.
“Because of the pandemic, some of my face-to-face support has stopped - the Youth Club I volunteer at has closed again, and I can’t go to Church – which usually helps me socialise and connect with people. I still have some ways of managing my mental health. I love to run and I have got really into street dance and photography – especially taking photos of wildlife. I find counselling helpful, but it’s difficult to find a therapist who understands my learning disability as well as my mental health issues.”Mental Health Act Review