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Locked up and no one to help : mental health patients and the realities of living with a mental illness

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    A blog considering the present requirements for intervention for patients suffering with mental illness and why this needs to be improved.

    By Lucy Crawford

I was reading an article recently about the high numbers of people suffering from a mental health condition being detained under s136 of the Mental Health Act in police custody,  rather than be offered necessary support and services through the mental health services.  It is very concerning to think that the most vulnerable people in society are being treated in this way and not being offered the specialist help they need.  It is even more concerning to think that this lack of support and training is resulting in many avoidable deaths.

The Mental Health Act allows a person with a mental illness to be admitted to hospital for assessment and treatment.  A person is either admitted on a voluntary ‘informal’ basis or is detained (sectioned) on a ‘formal’ basis”.  The purpose is to provide proper support to a person including therapies, medication and learning how to live with mental illness.  This support is invaluable and can help an individual understand and live with their condition to lead an independent life.

What happens when intervention is required?

On some occasions, the police need to get involved, for instance to prevent a person from doing harm to themselves or others. In this situation, s136 of the Mental Health Act allows the police to take you to a place of safety when you are in a public space.   A place of safety is defined as police station, hospital, residential home or nursing home.

It is my view that a police station is not a suitable ‘safe place’ for a person suffering with mental illness and in effect criminalises someone who has done nothing wrong.  In the most tragic of cases, this can even result in suicide or death because a person has not been given the medical help they so urgently need, and this is a death which could potentially otherwise have been avoided.

What next?

We need urgent action to tackle the totally inadequate protection people are being provided with. A police cell is not a suitable substitute for a bed on a psychiatric unit with trained professionals to offer support and guidance.

Until we can implement a better system for assessing and addressing an individual’s needs, the number of avoidable injuries and deaths are likely to continue and increase.  Mental illness can no longer be a ‘taboo’ subject and in my view needs to be afforded the same consideration as patients requiring treatment for physical illnesses and injuries.

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