I support having laws which make it possible in limited circumstances to detain innocent people with a serious mental illness.

Why? Because I’m a realist. Society cannot stand by and let somebody who has lost touch with reality injure themselves or, worse still, take their own life. And of course sometimes people who are very ill can pose a threat to others – their family or members of the public – and we have a duty to protect them too.

So the purpose of my Blog is not to undermine the principle of having laws which address this difficult challenge of protecting people through compulsion. My concern is about how these laws are framed – and I make no secret of my determination to replace the current Mental Health Act with a new law which can do a better job of protecting everybody and also reduce the use of compulsion. You can see what I think in my detailed manifesto here.

But in this Blog post I want to raise a point which applies to any law which provides for compulsion:

You can’t justify compulsion if you do not also take responsibility for the safety of every patient subject to it.

I was very disturbed to read about the increase in deaths of patients subject to the Mental Health Act in England here and we read too often of similar problems in Wales.

There has always been a tendency for mental health services to reach for the Mental Health Act in a crisis and then move on without securing the ongoing safety of those whose lives and trust in services has been disrupted by use of the Act. I fear that during the pandemic this problem has been exacerbated.

Patients’ and families’ support for compulsion is based on a trade with mental health services: we recognise the need for compulsion if you deliver a safe pathway following the initial crisis.

Mental health services need to deliver their side of the bargain.

Jo Roberts is a mental health campaigner who was on the receiving end of the Mental Health Act for over 30 years. In the past she has received compulsory treatment; some of that treatment was deeply unpleasant and even terrifying. Jo is campaigning for a progressive Mental Health Act fit for the 21st Century – an Act that gives patients and carers in Wales and beyond a fairer deal. Read more…