OPINION: HOT ISSUE - Will the draft Mental Health Bill add to the strain on charities?

The Mental Health Bill proposes preventative detainment of people with severe and dangerous personality disorders. Mental health charities are concerned that people with mental health problems will be stigmatised by the legislation and will shy away from statutory services for fear of being forcibly detained.



The strain on organisations like ours is already at breaking point. The stigma attached to mental illness can only be added to by the Government's proposals, and this will affect both our workload and our ability to find funding. This new Bill could lead to abuse and neglect in the provision of mental health services, widening a gap which organisations like ours already have problems filling in terms of information, support, services and advocacy. As has already been proven in the human rights victory for psychiatric patients, the reports of a mental healthcare crisis and the hijacked funds for mental health, the Government is intent on continuing its appalling record on mental health issues. Mental health charities receive very little funding from the Government. When the Government then creates a whole new range of problems without consulting us, it puts organisations like us at serious risk, and takes a huge gamble with the lives of the one in four people who are affected by these issues.



Within hours of radio and television coverage of the Mental Health Bill, dozens of people had called our helpline, SANELINE, while others emailed and phoned our office, worried at the implications of the proposed legislation. As press coverage has highlighted the issues of compulsory treatment in the community and preventative detainment of people with dangerous and severe personality disorders, the concern mounted among callers. While many people with personality disorders called fearing they will be picked up and detained without committing an offence, we believe that most understood the proposals were at the Bill stage and not currently enforceable. However, our concern is that the 1,000 calls a week that SANELINE already responds to will increase substantially should the Bill be legislated in its current form.

Should this be the case, and lobbying by SANE and other mental health organisations be unsuccessful, we expect a high degree of initial panic from callers to our volunteers, followed by greater ongoing need for support. This can only grow if the Bill is passed and - as we too often find - charities will be left to fill the void of insufficient care for the most vulnerable people in society.



Along with other members of the Mental Health Alliance, the Mental Health Foundation is deeply concerned about the Mental Health Bill. Health services should promote wellbeing and help those who are ill. Driven by arguments about dangerousness, the Government is at risk of turning mental health services into a system based on compulsion and containment.

If that happens, then many people most in need of support are bound to shy away from statutory services.

They may indeed turn to the voluntary sector as their only alternative. This will put unbearable strain on voluntary-sector services and could also skew the type of work we do.

We shouldn't have to plug the gaps because statutory services are deficient or unacceptable to their users.



Because the Act, whatever you think about it, will only directly affect a relatively small number of people with the most severe mental health problems. But it's not going to do much to relieve strain on charities either. The Bill doesn't even pretend to address the issues which the vast majority of people with mental health problems face. Far too many lack access to decent housing and support. Without improved health, social care and support in the community, charities will increasingly be called upon to fill the gaps. Although the Government tells us it is addressing issues at both ends of the spectrum, the draft Bill tells us only how they will deal with things when they've gone very wrong. To balance the equation, we now need more resources directed towards prevention. Mental health charities are worried that people will now be even more reluctant to engage with mainstream services and that the emphasis on control stigmatises people . Charities will have to deal with that for many years to come.

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