Independent Review of the Mental Health Act: NSUN’s response

NSUN is network of people who have or might in the future be affected by the Mental Health Act.  Our members, and the organisations they lead, live with the results of shortcomings in mental health legislation every day.

The individuals and groups that form our network are far more likely to experience practices and events that result from the Mental Health Act than the rest of the population.

These include being detained, spending time in secure units, or being assessed under the Mental Health Act.

Our members have been calling for a reform to mental health law, through the Members’ Manifesto, to make sure vulnerable people do not have their rights ignored or suffer harms from services intended to help them when they are in need.
NSUN recognises that the recommendations of the Mental Health Act Review are incremental steps toward a better situation, but feel they are just that: steps covering ‘proposals on advance directives, nearest relatives, access to advocacy, better safeguards and a new right of appeal against compulsory treatment’.

If they are put into action they will at best improve what is already in place; but they aren’t the end point for the change needed.

It’s up to all of us to continue to refuse to have such low expectations for what could actually change.

NSUN welcomed the surprise announcement of Independent Review of The Mental Health Act in June last year as an overdue opportunity to advocate for a rights-based approach to mental health treatment.

The speed with which the review was set up and carried out reflects the real need for change.

As an independent collective we were keen to contribute to the gathering of alternative approaches and solutions derived from the experience of people who have been subject to the Act.

At the beginning of the review NSUN raised the issue of fundamental human rights and existing frameworks and recommendations (e.g. the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disability) for ensuring everyone is treated fairly and without discrimination.

There will be a lot commentary about the potential impact of these recommendations now they have been published.

We will be publishing our understanding of the difference they can make but will continue to call for a reform that is fully compliant with human rights arguing that currently all people have rights but some have more rights than others.

If you were to turn up at A+E in distress you’d want to be helped with open arms and with care, you wouldn’t expect to be turned away, left stranded and alone, scared of what you’re feeling and scared of having your freedom taken away.

If you did find yourself needing ‘psychiatric care’ you wouldn’t expect to have to fight for the right to decide what should happen to you;

You wouldn’t expect to have your concerns about what’s right for you minimised and you wouldn’t expect to experience physical restraint, being ignored or being left with nothing to do but wait until you’re discharged.

In any circumstance, you’d expect to have support to understand the treatments you’re being given; you’d expect that someone would explain to you what was happening, you’d expect that someone would help you plan what needed to happen when you went home.

You wouldn’t expect to be treated less well because of your ethnicity, your gender, your age, your diagnosis, your sexuality or your beliefs.

When things are really bad and really, really hard you’d expect to be treated as someone in need of help and understanding not a criminal or an inconvenience.

You’d expect that people would help you feel safe and that you matter.

You wouldn’t expect to have to live to a set of rules that other people don’t have to live to, you wouldn’t expect to have rights that could be taken away for reasons that aren’t clear to you at the time.

You wouldn’t expect that your experience of treatment would be something that might also cause you further distress, isolation and trauma.

This is what the Mental Health Act Review is about.
It’s not about service improvement; it’s about making sure that when people are in most need their lives are made better, not worse.

We must not forget that the Mental Health Act Review is about real people’s lives.
The effects won’t end once the dust settles; NSUN members will live with the results every day.

The recommendations of the review aren’t the achievement; it’s what happens and what changes because of the recommendations.

We think there’s room for more exploration, more lived experience and more focusing on the future we want.

Sarah Yiannoullou
NSUN Managing Director