23rd November 2017

What is the Mental Health Act?

The Mental Health Act is the law which sets out when you can be admitted, detained and treated in hospital against your wishes.

Government proposals

On 4 October 2017 the Prime Minister announced an independent review into the Mental Health Act to examine rising rates of detention and the disproportionate numbers of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people detained. In 2014-2015 63,000 people were detained under the Mental Health Act, an increase of 43% compared with 2005-2006. Black people are disproportionately affected with a detention rate of 56.9 per 100 patients compared to 37.5 per 100 among white patients.

The purpose of the review is to work with stakeholders to understand the causes of these problems, as well as any additional issues with the functioning of the act identified via consultation. Mrs May has said the review would be the first step towards a new Mental Health Act.


The government’s proposal has been largely welcomed. Danielle Hamm, Associate Director of Campaigns and Policy at Rethink Mental Illness stated that the current Act is too often failing people with mental illness and needs to be made fit for purpose. Mental health charities have urged that the new Act needs to ensure that people with mental health problems have more involvement in decisions about their care. Ms Hamm stated that the starting point is that “any process of overhauling the current Act needs to be done in full consultation with and led by people with lived experience”.

There have however been numerous warnings from those involved in mental health services that a lack of resources, rather than badly drafted laws, has been the real driver of the increases in detention. For example, it is argued that the closure of day centres and the cuts to social care mean that problems are often not noticed until they reach crisis point. Louise Rubin, Head of Policy and Campaigns at MIND said the Act cannot be reviewed in isolation, without also addressing underlying failures in mental health services that see people ending up in crisis. She stated “changes to legislation need to be in line with the delivery of the ambitious plan to transform mental health services over the next five years”. Jacqui Dyer, who has been appointed to the advisory panel for the government’s review, said it is clear that detention cannot be seen in isolation from the systemic inequalities in mental health.

A report is due from the independent panel by autumn 2018.

Blog by Ronagh Craddock, Trainee Solicitor in the Mental Health department