Therapist Michael O'Sullivan says people with mental health needs get to the point where their liberty is taken away from them because preventative services often don't arrive in time, due to peaking NHS pressures.

Mental Health law can involve depriving people of their liberty and can force them to take treatment against their will.

This means that such legislation needs to be under constant scrutiny and review.

In October last year, Theresa May announced a review of the current 1983/2007 Mental Health Act. This is to be welcomed.

Mental Health Today has launched a campaign, In Our Right Mind, to make the Mental Health Act more humane

Rise in people being sectioned

The reasons for the review relate to the steep rise in the number of people detained or “sectioned” under the Mental Health Act, as well as the disproportionate number of black and minority ethnic individuals admitted under section.

To cap it all, the numbers that this review is predicated on are dubious.

The Kings Fund have reported problems with the ways that the data is collected.

This actually questions the assumed truth of the reported rise in numbers. It would seem sensible to address these wider systemic problems as part of the review. The reasons for this are straightforward.

It looks like the focus of the reviewis raising more questions than it is answering.

Stretched services

The review of the Mental Health Act is also taking place against a backdrop of a mental health service which is in decline.

The Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs) who are charged with making applications under the Mental Health Act for people who have been sectioned, have to contend with the fact that there are less resources across the board. There are no hospital beds.

Increasingly people sectioned under the Mental Health Act are being moved hundreds of miles away to hospitals outside of their area, away from their support networks.

The current systems that we work under in the NHS are financially driven.

This means that the long term work that many people with mental health problems need is being challenged by services that are trying to keep in budget.

People are being discharged before they are well.

Preventative care

If someone does get to the point of needing to have their liberty taken away and being sectioned under the Mental Health Act, then the preventative care that should have stopped this from happening in the first place has not happened.

Mental health services are like slices of Swiss cheese stacked side by side. When the potential for risk materialises it passes through one hole of one slice. It is then managed by hitting the “wall” of the next slice.

However if all of the holes in the cheeses “line up” a theoretical risk then becomes something real.

The background behind Mental Health Act sections are often a series of events where one aspect of risk is not managed effectively.

Focus on detention 

Focussing too much on detention also feeds into old ideas of the dangerousness for people with mental health problems.

This is an area of discrimination and discrimination “matters”.

Stigma persists and people are still not open about approaching services until it is too late.

When people think of the Mental Health Act they still think in terms of being sectioned.

Any review needs to focus more on the prevention and the provision of humane and effective treatment.

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