The Mental Health Foundation's statement on the Reforming the Mental Health Act White Paper

The Mental Health Act White Paper is a vital update to an outdated piece of legislation that deprives the liberty of people in mental health crisis.

We are pleased that the White Paper has taken on recommendations from the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, and that the direction of travel is towards a more rights-based approach that affords more choice, protection, and human dignity to people sectioned under the Act.

Given the disproportionate number of people from minority ethnic communities – in particular people of Black African and Black Caribbean descent – detained under the Act, we are happy to see an emphasis on ending this racial disparity and plans to provide more culturally appropriate advocacy for people from minority ethnic communities. We look forward to seeing these plans fully funded in the next spending review. 

Reaching the point of mental health crisis can be a traumatic experience, and detention under the Mental Health Act can compound this trauma. We urge the Government to fully commit to trauma-informed principles of care so that people who are detained under the Act are treated in a way that respects their background and avoids retraumatising them, which can cause more damage and break trust between carer and patient.

In the narrative around this Mental Health Act White Paper, it has been encouraging to hear Ministers emphasise the need to understand a person’s background, environment, and community heritage when planning treatment. The greater weight given to the causes of a person’s distress – rather than focusing narrowly on the symptoms of this distress – is an important step forward in the way we approach mental health, and it is something that should inform our thinking in settings such as schools, communities, and work. 

While we welcome the steps taken to mitigate the mental health inequalities in the use of the Mental Health Act set out in the White Paper, we know that these inequalities are embedded in wider society. We therefore reiterate our call for more work to address the inequality, discrimination and trauma in wider society which can lead people to the point of crisis in the first place.

Just as we have seen the central role of the Ministry of Justice in the reforms of the Mental Health Act, we now need a whole-of-government, preventative approach to promote better mental health for all. The planned reforms to the Mental Health Act are a vital and necessary step forward, but we need to tackle the wider social, economic, and environmental factors that can result in people reaching crisis and falling in to the scope of the Act.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation