A Report from the Front Lines of the Mental Health Act

The issue of involuntary mental health treatment, sometimes referred to as “sectioning,” is highly contentious within the mental health community, with some professionals strongly advocating for the detention of those who are deemed to pose a threat to themselves or those around them, and others opposed to the idea of the state interfering with the freedom of clients. In the United Kingdom, the Mental Health Act dictates that those exhibiting symptoms of mental health concerns who may be prone to committing harm should in fact be detained for up to six months without their consent. Interventional assessments to discern whether such individuals should be sectioned are carried out by teams of mental health professionals and support staff. Recently, a reporter in the UK was on-hand to experience a day in the life of such team members, and has recorded her experience in piece detailing the many issues involved in involuntary detainment.

The report details incidents in which a variety of potential mental health clients not receiving care are met with psychologists and police workers, an assembly which may prove intimidating and conflict with emerging ideas about the inadequacy of matching mental health clients with the non-specialized skills of police and ambulance staff. The reporter also describes scenes of potentially turning-point moments in the lives of those served with an assessment; encouraged to seek care and connected with valuable community resources, some of these people may go on to improve their quality of life without the need for mandatory treatment. A deep look at the often difficult realities of mental health crises, the report shows both the negative and positive aspects of the Mental Health Act, providing insights for other countries that may be interested in developing similar laws.

© Copyright 2009 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Sally


    December 11th, 2009 at 10:37 AM

    wow this seems a little too Big Brother to me. I am all for protecting those who may be harmful to themselves and to others but this sees like it may take things a wee bit too far.

  • simon taufil

    simon taufil

    December 11th, 2009 at 11:03 AM

    well this is a tough topic on to comment on…because a decision that may be legally right may not be morally right… one that may be technically right may not be practically right… but in unavoidable circumstances, i think it will be best to consider detaining such people, but only with permission from the person’s family.



    December 11th, 2009 at 3:23 PM

    If any person is a danger to himself or anybody else, there should be no issue in detaining such a person as detention and medication of one person is far better than possible danger to many people…

  • defoe


    December 12th, 2009 at 3:20 AM

    There should be clear legal stand on this issue and I believe that if it proved that a person is a potential danger to anybody, he/she should be kept at a safe distance, but with the best of facilities available. Also, family undertaking should be made compulsory.

  • Georgia


    December 13th, 2009 at 11:50 AM

    Defoe I agree that there should be a law that the family of those with these issues should have to step in but what of they do not have the means to then care for one in such crisis? What happens then? Obviously then the proper authorities are going to have to take a stand and get this person to a place where he cannot harm others or himself.

  • John Lee LMHC

    John Lee LMHC

    December 13th, 2009 at 4:57 PM

    A huge problem in Mental Health Treatment is there is little money for effective programs. In the state of Florida, there is more money going into the jail and prison system for mental health treatment than there is going into the community. I have seen many consumers discharged from a psychiatric facitllity then become arrested and end up on a unit in the county jail system where they can be legally detained and treated. However even in the jail system they have the right to refuse medications.

    The state of New York passed legislation called Kendras law that can enable court orders for medication and treatment for people suffering from chronic mental illness. Because of the Human Rights people, there are many people with untreated shcizophrenia that suffer in a delusional state and become so paranoid they run from those who can help them.

    Thusly, families are powerless and have to watch thier loved ones suffer untill something happens that creates court ordered evaluation or treatment in the jail system. Tragically there are those too who die because people who are delusional have the right to refuse medication! The right to refuse medication even in a psychiatric hospital. Hello! What is wrong with this picture!

    John Lee LMHC

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