Our understanding of mental illness is coloured by myth, prejudice and stereotypes. These myths are reinforced by bad journalism and lazy rhetoric.

The Alliance believes that mental health legislation should be based on fact and constructed around evidence-based research.

We hope that the facts and figures we provide here can help to scotch some of the myths, and give a clearer picture about the need for better mental health legislation.

Mental health and public safety

More than half a million people in England and Wales have a severe mental illness. The vast majority do not harm anyone and manage their illness without recourse to compulsory treatment.

Homicides by people with mental health problems are rare: of 873 homicides in 2002, less than 5% were attributable to mental illness;

Violence has not increased as a result of care in the community: the frequency of such homicides has remained the same since the 1950s, whilst the total number of homicides continues to rise;

Prejudice about mental illness remains a major social problem. The most recent surveys commissioned by the DH show rising levels of hostile attitudes among the public;

Most homicides by people with mental disorder are among those not in contact with services. Over 1 in 4 with schizophrenia, and over half of offenders with personality disorder had never had contact with services.

Legal loopholes are not responsible for most homicides committed by people with mental illness: independent inquiries consistently find inadequate service provision, human error and lack of communication between agencies are the main failings that lead to tragedies. None have called for the kind of legal changes the Government is proposing.

Mental health and Black and Minority Ethnic Communities

Rates of admission into hospital are three or more times higher for black and white-black mixed groups compared with the average.

Black groups are up to 44% more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act compared to the average. 4% of patients were referred.

The risk of being referred to mental health services by police or by the courts is almost double for Black Caribbean and Black African groups.

In the three months prior to the census, 3% of inpatients had been put in a closed room for their own safety on at least one occasion. Men from the Black Caribbean, Black African, Other Black and Indian groups were about 50% more likely than average to be secluded.

8% of inpatients had experienced one or more incidents of control and restraint. The rate was 29% higher than the average for Black Caribbean men.

(All figures taken from the (MHAC Mental Health and Ethnicity Census 2005)

Community Treatment Orders

It would take 85 outpatient commitment orders to prevent one readmission, 27 to prevent one episode of homelessness and 238 to prevent one arrest (Cochrane Review, 2005).

Evidence suggests that the number of people under compulsion in the community tends to rise year-on-year. The most recent study shows that the number of people on Non Residential Orders may reach several thousands - not the 1400+ that the Department of Health has assumed (King's Fund, 2005)


Staff shortages are endemic in all the mental health professions. Official vacancy figures are: consultant psychiatrists 7.7%, nurses 2.8%, clinical psychologists 2.7% and psychotherapists 1.8%.

Psychiatrists currently spend 7% of their time on Mental Health Act work. It is estimated that the new Bill would increase that to 14%.

The latest figures (Dec 2004) show 3,638 consultant psychiatrists working in the NHS. It is estimated that this will need to double to keep pace with demand.

Many ASWs are approaching retirement age. The creation of the AMHP role is estimated to lead to one-fifth of ASWs retiring or leaving the profession.

Acute inpatient wards have especially high vacancy rates: a recent study of wards across England found that one nursing post in eight was empty. In London the rate was as high as one in five.

We can reference all of our statistics. If you can't find what you are looking for in our library of supporting evidence, please contact us for more information.