Mental health laws are ‘intrinsically discriminatory’, says Perkins


Urgent action is needed to address the plight of tens of thousands of mental health service-users who are subjected to detention and compulsory treatment under “intrinsically discriminatory” legislation, according to a leading disabled expert.

Dr Rachel Perkins pointed to figures which show that the number of detentions under the Mental Health Act (MHA) rose by its highest proportion in 2014-15, to more than 58,000.

This compared with 44,000 people in 2007-08, and less than 22,000 in 1987-88.

Perkins (pictured) told Disability Rights UK’s annual conference in north London that MHA “deprives people of their human rights” and is “a law that only applies to you if you are deemed to have a mental health disorder”, but few if any organisations have been campaigning to address that discrimination.

Perkins, vice-chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s disability committee, a senior consultant with Implementing Recovery through Organisational Change (ImROC), and herself a mental health service-user, said the issue would be raised with the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities.

Evidence of the discriminatory nature of mental health legislation will be included in the shadow report being compiled by Disability Rights UK and other disabled people’s organisations on the UK’s implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Perkins said the dominant narrative in mental health was the need for better access to treatment, and for service-users to be more open about their impairments.

But she said the discriminatory Mental Health Act meant that people with mental distress were at risk of being locked up, forcibly treated and injected with drugs, even though most of them have the capacity to refuse or consent to treatment.

There were more than 4,500 community treatment orders (CTOs) in 2014-15, compared with about 4,100 in 2009-10, the first full year after CTOs were introduced by the Labour government in 2008.

The original estimates suggested there would only be 400 to 600 CTOs a year, she said.

Perkins told the conference that Labour had argued that CTOs would lead to fewer people with mental health conditions being locked up, but detention had instead continued to rise.

She said: “This should have reduced the number of people in hospital. It hasn’t.

“The number of times we have used this law to detain people in hospital has gone up and up and up.”

In 2014-15, she said, there were 58,000 occasions on which “we locked people up in hospital and injected them against their will, the largest increase ever seen in a year.

“It’s getting serious and it’s getting much, much worse.”

She pointed to research in The Lancet from 2013 which showed that the use of CTOs “does not confer patient benefits, despite substantial curtailment of individual freedoms”.

She told the conference: “CTOs do not benefit people in any way.

“We cannot talk about independent living while there is a whole class of disabled people for whom a completely separate law applies.”

Perkins told the conference that once people are seen as having a health condition rather than being a disabled person they can become “trapped” and subject to “medical interventions, charity and good works”.

And she said that people with mental health conditons have not seen the advances in rights enjoyed by other disabled people, and are still often forced into institutions, with only 60 per cent of people using mental health services having a “secure and stable place to live”.

She told Disability News Service later that the issue was causing “huge amounts of distress” among service-users.

She said: “People are extremely angry about it. People see themselves as doing something wrong, as being prisoners; they see mental health services as policing their treatment, rather than providing support.

“Where do people turn to for help if those people supposed to be helping them just end up forcing them to [take medication]?”

She added: “It feels to me that what has happened is we have moved towards the right to treatment and that has substituted for the right to life, the right to participate.

“They are talking about parity of esteem for mental health services and not parity of esteem for people who experience mental health challenges.”

And many CTOs lead eventually to service-users being recalled into detention, she said.

She added: “I think there’s a reluctance for anyone to take [this issue]on because there is still some emotion that people with mental health problems are going to be dangerous and therefore we need to protect everybody or protect people from themselves – very much ‘looking after’ rather than a rights-based narrative.”

She said the “disability world was still not seeing mental health as a core part of its business”, so the issue was not taken up.

She added: “I don’t think there is a large, social-model, rights-based mental health movement.

“My sadness is there has never been a joint working between the mental health world and the disability rights world, as there has been in other parts of the world. In Britain it still seems really separate.”

  • User Ratings (3 Votes)
  • Norma Ferrie

    People with mental health or disorders are invisible compared to people who are suffering chronic illness or limb blind and learning difficulties…these are all as important as each other…all eqaulity deserving of treatment and support…but mental illness and disorders like ptsd /complex ptsd, Generalised anxiety disorder…etc

    Are not the outside world and sadly in health service…and mental health service…are treated as though nothing is wrong with them then on the other extreme some medical illnesses are missed..because sometimes there is an assumption that some how the symptoms they present are related to thier mental health…and then left to suffer longer that necessary..sometimes with dangerous consequences…when the illness becomes life threatening.

    Having a mental health disability…can be as debilitating as any other illness or distability…but most mental health disorders can be recoverable..and in the same token most illnesses..are also’s recognised by the medical field with the right treatment the illness and disability being suffered is recognised and treated accordily…

    The Trouble with mental health your diagnosed put on medication..but the recovery part of the treatment is non extant..

    Physical surgery…or Like recovering from a disease…limb amputations…or back surgery…there is a team that will work with them like physio..or providing care at home…followed by a serious of appointments to record your progress until you are then discharged from care..
    You can live a full life again.

    If only mental health treatment..recovery..and follow ups.
    There would not be the increasing numbers of mental health sufferers.
    And the longer they suffer the more deteriorated and demoralised they become…just as any other disability or illness…the number of mental health sufferers is on the rise…the Services of mental health simply cannot cope…
    There needs to be a radical change in the treatment of recoverable mental health…must be given the chance to recover quicker..
    But there is a feeling that recoverable mental health is at the very bottom of the list…it is not enough just to prescribe drugs..there is massage to treat the muscles that are full of stress…there creative projects that help with getting self asteem, programme to come off the medication…the right talking therapy…this home or at a clinic.

    The treatment for PTSD or c-ptsd.
    Is impossible to access..or you have to pay privately which for most people is impossible, being that they are on benefit..
    I find this one of the biggest scandal in mental health services…because celebrities can pay for recover treatment…does not mean some one poor who needs the same treatment should have to pay also.
    Imagine is recoverable illness and disabilities had to pay privately!

    recoverable mental health can be life threatening..because the torment..the loss of your way of life…every day blighted by mental health becomes too much…some end thier life…

    Proper treatment of managed mental health illness can be dangerous to the public..some go on to kill others…

    There has to be a commitment to the mental Health suffer…they need to be told they are going to get well…and the medication is temporary until they go through a recovery programme tailored to thier specific needs.

    Medication….is fine but should not be life long…when it does not have to be.