A new report from the Mental Health Alliance highlights concerns that the Mental Health Act overlooks the dignity and human rights of people with mental illness.

New Alliance report highlights concerns about the Mental Health Act

The Alliance is urging the Government to act on its promise to reform the Act and take into account the views of those affected by mental illness.

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 didn't think that people are treated with dignity and respect under the Mental Health Act.

The Mental Health Alliance, made up of Bipolar UK and over 75 other organisations working in the mental health sector, commissioned the research and is calling on the Government to urgently act on its promise to review the Act and to ensure reform takes into account the views expressed by those the Act is there to protect.

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

Key findings from the survey, which was developed, disseminated and analysed by Rethink Mental Illness on behalf of the Alliance, showed that:

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

The Alliance is also concerned that parts of the Act are out of date. For example, if 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, children, and then parents. 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 and Bipolar UK Chief Executive, 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.”

The full report can be found on the Rethink Mental Illness website.

Find out more about the Mental Health Alliance here.

You can also download the original survey questions and the MHA survey results presentation.