Landmark Reform of Mental Health Laws Focuses on Choice and the Individual

Long awaited plans have been announced to overhaul the UK’s outdated mental health legislation.

As we face further restrictions in light of the coronavirus pandemic, experts are warning that we’re likely to see more people reach mental health crisis in coming months. It’s therefore never been more critical to make sure people are properly supported and have their choices and dignity respected.

The Mental Health Act  currently allows people with mental health problems to be held against their will (‘sectioned’) in certain circumstances.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “We need to bring mental health laws into the 21st Century. I want to ensure our health service works for all, yet the Mental Health Act is now 40 years old”.

“This is a significant moment in how we support those with serious mental health issues, which will give people more autonomy over their care and will tackle disparities for all who access services – in particular for people from minority ethnic backgrounds.”

The White Paper contains changes that should strengthen people’s rights, including: 

  • Giving legal weight to people’s choices and preferences about their care and treatment
  • Choosing which family member or friend is given particular rights to be involved in their care
  • Providing culturally appropriate advocacy and a wider range of support from advocates to better help people from a range of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to express their thoughts and wishes about the care they receive
  • More opportunities for tribunals to discharge people, scrutinise and make certain changes to their care. 

The reforms will also ensure that autism or a learning disability cannot be a reason for detaining someone under the act. In future, a clinician will have to identify another psychiatric condition to order their detention.

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.  

Your chance to have your say

Responding to the White Paper, Sophie Corlett, Director of External Relations at Mind, said:

“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”.

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”.

“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.”

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“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”.  

About the author

Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times




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