Mental health is in the news! It’s great that we are finally talking about a health issue that society often perceives as a sensitive subject.

This week the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is asking us to focus our attention on the state of the UK’s mental health – are we thriving mentally, or just surviving? MHF research revealed that almost two-thirds of us acknowledge experiencing a mental health problem, so it’s not surprising that this subject is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Theresa May has pledged to scrap our 30-year-old mental health laws, and introduce new legislation that “confronts the discrimination and unnecessary detention that takes place too often”.

Is a new Mental Health Treatment Act the key to ensuring the nation enjoys good mental health?

Whilst this new act has the potential to provide some valuable and welcome change, it is questionable whether simply changing legislation will resolve some of the biggest issues, for example:

  • Local provision has been “remodelled” and established therapeutic relationships have been lost due to community mental health teams being dismantled or pared back. Without that modest safety net of support, a crisis becomes more likely. With the closure of community beds, admission to a crowded ward of acutely ill patients is likely (if they can find you a bed) and recovery in that environment is more of a challenge. When the time comes for the person to return home, their discharge may be delayed by the social worker struggling to pull together a package of support.
  • Admission to an acute psychiatric ward carries with it a cost to your human experience, being a challenging experience in itself, but also impacting on your finances, housing, relationships and the ability to maintain your independence. If the admission is prolonged, it can introduce a risk of institutionalisation.
  • If you have a diagnosis of autism or Asperger’s a hospital admission can be traumatising – a busy ward environment can be frightening and confusing. The introduction of the Autism Act 2009 was the first ever disability-specific law in England. However, despite this piece of innovative legislation, individuals with autism, and their families, face daily battles trying to secure necessary and appropriate services and support.
  • Currently, children are being sent hundreds of miles from home to receive the mental health treatment they require, and individuals who are at risk are being detained in police cells for up to 72 hours to provide them with a place of “safety”.

From these examples, it appears that funding, resources and capacity challenges are overwhelming mental health services. If we want to see our nation’s mental health thrive and not merely survive, we may need to dig deeper than just introducing new legislation.

Further Information

If you would like more information, please contact Sheree Green, our Court of Protection lead at Anthony Collins Solicitors, and Chair of the Law Society Mental Health and Disability Committee. Or alternatively, please visit the Court of Protection page on our website.

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