Get help now Make a donation

Mental Health Act overlooks the dignity and human rights of people with mental health problems, finds report

Thursday, 22 June 2017 Mind

Mind, as part of the Mental Health Alliance, today publishes a report urging the Government to act on its promise to reform the Mental Health Act and take into account the views of those affected by mental health problems.

Based on research involving over 8,000 people who use mental health services, carers, and professionals working in the field, the report concludes that the current Mental Health Act isn't fit for purpose. 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, made up of over 75 organisations working in the mental health sector, commissioned the research and is calling on the Government to urgently 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.

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 showed that:

  • 49% of respondents disagreed that people are treated with dignity under the Mental Health Act
  • 50% said that they would not be confident that their human rights would be protected under the Mental Health Act if they were detained under it
  • 72% disagreed that the rights of people living with mental illness are protected and enforced as effectively as those for people living with a physical illness
  • 86% of respondents felt that 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The Mental Health Alliance is concerned that there are parts of the Act which are out of date. For example, if you are sectioned under the Mental Health Act, your nearest relative is contacted and given a say over your treatment and detainment. The “nearest relative” is not the same as “next of kin” and comes in a specific hierarchy starting with your spouse, then son/daughter, then father/mother etc, which 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 Mental Health 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 this survey.

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

Andrea has been held under the Mental Health Act. She said:

“I did not feel like my rights were respected at all when I was held under the Mental Health Act. This survey’s findings definitely ring true and it’s so shocking that nothing has been done to change things over the years.

“I remember being left in a cold, padded cell, I was freezing and already deeply paranoid. The whole experience left me feeling terrified and violated. It made the whole situation worse, and the trauma has stayed with me over the years. Fairly recently I had a very bad depressive episode, but I wouldn’t go to hospital because I couldn’t cope with the idea of being sectioned again.”

About the research

  • Read the full report
  • The Mental Health Act survey ran from 1 November to 18 December 2016.  8,631 people responded.
  • The survey was promoted by members of the Mental Health Alliance who used their own communication networks to ensure maximum participation with the research.
  • The research was commissioned by the Mental Health Alliance and the survey was designed, disseminated and analysed by Rethink Mental Illness, in collaboration with Alliance members.

About the Mental Health Act

  • The Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983 is a crucial piece of legislation setting out the legal framework for compulsory powers in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland have different mental health legislation. The Act sets out when someone can be admitted, detained, and treated in hospital against their wishes.
  • The Act is now over 30 years old.  It was amended in 2007 and the changes introduced included new Community Treatment Orders (CTOs) and a right to access advocacy. 
  • The Act is accompanied by a Code of Practice. This is an important document as it offers statutory guidance, and professionals who do not follow it can be challenged in court.  It was updated by the Department of Health in 2015, but the scope of the Code is limited by the text of the Act itself.

About the Mental Health Alliance

  • The Mental Health Alliance is a coalition of more than 75 organisations that came together in 2000 to provide a focus for campaigning on common concerns about reform of the Mental Health Act.

arrow_upwardBack to Top