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Detention under Mental Health Act ‘overused’, finds survey

Detention under the Mental Health Act has become an overused last resort, according to a survey of mental health professionals.

Researchers from the University of York found factors including an ‘unsustainable demand’ for mental health services and a deterioration in social structures are leading to increasing numbers of people being detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act.

The findings are based on interviews and a national survey with Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMHPs) – the professional group, predominantly comprised of social workers, who carry out assessments under the Mental Health Act to determine whether someone requires compulsory hospital admission.

The government commissioned an Independent Review into uses of the Mental Health Act last year and made a number of recommendations for changes to mental health policy and practice.

However, AMHPs in the study advocated instead for investment in resources such as preventative services which promote greater social inclusion and interaction to help reduce the number of people experiencing mental health crises.

They also recommended changes to acute services such as increasing the numbers of non-medical and crisis houses, to offer an alternative to hospital admission for those in crisis.

Last month, a Care Quality Commission report showed that the use of the Mental Health Act continues to rise with around 50,000 detentions to psychiatric hospitals made under the Act last year.

Study author, Michael Bonnet, graduate from the Department of Social Policy and Social Work said: ‘Our respondents in the study viewed the problem of rising detention rates as symptomatic of a bigger issue: an unprecedented and unsustainable demand for mental health services, caused in part by a deterioration in the social structures that help people to stay well, leaving services perilously stretched at precisely the point they are most needed.

‘Our research concluded that, within this context, use of the Mental Health Act has become an overused last resort, not by design, but by necessity.’

Read the full paper here.

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