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Mental Health Act

In January, the Government released a White Paper in response to the 2018 review of the Mental Health Act 1983, setting out its recommendations for changes to the Mental Health Act. Today, one of our Experts by Experience Molly shares their experience of the Mental Health Act and how they feel changes to this legislation could impact their lives and others’ living with mental health conditions. 

The Government is hosting an online consultation around the proposed reform. You can read the white paper and have your say in the consultation until 11:59pm on 21st April 2021 by clicking here

I was 17 years old when the doctor told me ‘We’ve tried everything, we may have to section you’. I was terrified – terrified of where I would end up, of being sent away to some kind of prison, sent away from my family and my home, of losing my autonomy without say in the matter. For a young woman who, like many with mental health problems, struggled with control, this was terrifying.

Should I have felt this way? Ideally, I would have seen being sectioned as a valuable opportunity – a chance for me to get better. I had just received a Bipolar diagnosis, so I was under no illusion that I was okay, but the Mental Health Act being used against me seemed like a fate worse than, well, the worst. It lacked respect, it took away dignity and, above all, autonomy – it took away an individual’s ability to make their own decisions, without being controlled by others. It mistreated people who needed help, leaving them feeling more alone than ever. This is why the government is in the process of reforming the Mental Health Act; no one should feel like they are being made to do something against their will, and autonomy is key to recovery.

This reform will introduce mandatory ‘Advance Choice Documents’ for detained patients. These will include the patient’s emergency contact, their crisis plan and relapse signs. Done successfully, these documents will allow professionals to pick up early warning signs and intervene before an individual’s mental health deteriorates too severely. I hope the inclusion of relapse signs is honoured; being aware of mine has, quite literally, saved my life.

The document also lets people decide the treatments they ‘prefer’ and which they would refuse. These decisions will be honoured even if the patient is later deemed to lack the relevant mental capacity to decide. While I don’t like this term, this change will hopefully increase the control and autonomy of the patient. If I had known I had some say in my treatment, maybe I would have been less opposed to the solution my doctor proposed.

I am all too aware of the importance of assessing mental capacity. There have been times where I have questioned my own mental capacity; ‘can I trust myself?’, ‘what am I doing?’, ‘why did I do that?’. My mind would ruminate, convincing me to feel or do things I didn’t agree with. However, since mental capacity is complex and must be accurately assessed to avoid incorrectly corrupting a person’s autonomy, I am apprehensive about how effectively the definition of capacity can be enforced.

Whilst I never ended up under the jurisdiction of the Mental Health Act – a combination of self-care and extensive support from family and friends, medication and therapy eventually set me on the path to recovery – thousands each year still rely on this Act to get better. I could go on about the changes being made; how they will be enforced; if they are enough; whether they would have made a 17-year-old me less petrified – but they are certainly a start. I hope at the least they will prevent people with mental health problems from being deterred from accessing the support they need.

If you know someone who has lived experience of the Act, someone with mental health problems, or if you just feel strongly about the topic, there is a consultation running which you can find it on the Government website. Open until 21st April, the consultation gives you the chance to answer questions about the reforms…Go use some people power!

Oxfordshire Mind Expert by Experience