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Blog: Is mental health finally emerging from the shadows into the light?

Press release issued: 16 May 2018

In her latest blog, Dr Judy Laing, Reader in Law and Co-Director of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society (CHLS) marks Mental Health Awareness Week in a discussion of both the positive steps forward and the need for improvement in mental health legislation reform.

Dr Judy Laing examines the transformation of mental health into a political priority: 

"Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20th May) is a good opportunity for us to reflect on how far mental health has emerged from the shadows over the last decade.  

For too long, mental health has been neglected in England and Walesand this is particularly true for our main political parties, where up until quite recently, mental health has rarely featured in pre-election manifestos.  

There are now positive signs that this is changing and the nation’s mental health is now firmly on the political agenda." 

However, it is apparent that clear action is needed for improvement in mental health services. A review into the Mental Health Act (MHA) shows a marked rise in the number of people compulsorily detained for treatment. An investigation by the health and social care regulator in England, the Care Quality Commission (CQC), looked into reasons behind compulsory admissions, identifying social and demographic changes within a system under huge pressure, as well as issues arising from current legal framework and developments. 

In her article, Judy discusses aspects of the MHA that are in need of reform, particularly a need for legislation that strengthens patient autonomy and respectful treatment. An interim report recently published by the MHA review team shows a promising turn towards a "more dignified and compassionate legal framework", stating a hope "'that legislation can sometimes help lead to social change'." 

She writes: "But let’s also not forget the conclusions of the Care Quality Commission’s rising detention report – reforming mental health legislation on its own is not going to reduce the rate of detention, as it is only one small piece of a much bigger puzzle. Whilst mental health has started to emerge from the shadows, we’ve still got a long way to go to reach the light." 

Read the full blog here. 

Further information

Dr Judy Laing is a Reader in Law and co-Director of the Centre for Health, Law, and Society at the University of Bristol. She is a member of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) MHA Advisory Group and has fed into the CQC’s report on rising detention, as well as early scoping discussions on the independent MHA review. 

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