Mental Health Bill must address continued race inequalities in system, says Alliance

23 March 2007

The Government should take action against the excessive use of the Mental Health Act on Black people through the Bill now in Parliament, the Mental Health Alliance said today.

Responding to the Count Me In census report for 2006, published today, Alliance chair Andy Bell said: "Rates of sectioning and hospitalisation among Black African and Caribbean people remain far too high.

"Much of the disproportionate use of the Act stems from the criminal justice system. It is clear that the ‘circles of fear’ that exist between Black communities and mental health services are behind the low rate of referral to hospital by GPs and the very high rates of referral by the courts.

"The Government’s Mental Health Bill will do little to put this right and could in fact make it worse. We have to take this opportunity to bring about positive change in the system and create trust between Black people and mental health services.

"This can be helped by guaranteeing an advocate for every person detained under the Act; by further restricting the use of police stations to hold people when they are first detained; and by placing tougher controls on the over-use of medication, seclusion and restraint.

"The Government should also now accept the amendments made by the House of Lords. By ensuring no one can be detained because of their religious, political or cultural beliefs and by requiring that treatment given without consent is likely to bring some health benefit, Black people would have more confidence that they would not be subject to unnecessary coercion."

Marcel Vige, manager of Diverse Minds and co-chair of the National Black and Minority Ethnic Mental Health Network, said: "We call on the Government to demonstrate it is serious about addressing the issues raised by Count Me In by compelling health trusts to fully engage with Delivering Race Equality. The government must also introduce robust measures into mental health legislation which will alleviate the shocking levels of discrimination within the mental health system."

Notes

Count Me In, the results of the 2006 national census of mental health and learning disability inpatient services, is published today by the Healthcare Commission, the Mental Health Act Commission and the Care Services Improvement Partnership.

It concludes that Black African and Caribbean people were up to 38% more likely than average to be detained under the Mental Health Act. They were more likely to have been referred by the courts, less often referred by their GP and had longer stays in hospital than white people.

The Mental Health Bill was published in November 2006. It was subject to six government defeats in the House of Lords and has now been introduced into the House of Commons.