Significant rise in mental health detentions

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (MWC) have released their Mental Health Act monitoring report 2020-21, showing a 10.5% increase in people in Scotland being detailed for mental health treatment. This compares to an average 4.5% rise over the previous five years, more than doubling the rise.

A total of 6,699 people were assessed as needing to be treated for a mental illness against their will, using compulsory measures under the Mental Health Act. There are three different ways people can be detain – either by emergency certificate, short term detention, or through a compulsory treatment order – and rates rose in each of these.

As well as rising numbers, the report once more showing falling safeguards when people are detained for treatment against their will. MWC expressed their concern Mental Health Officer consent to a detention order is at its lowest level in the past ten years.

For the first time the report also compares levels of detention with deprivation and finds a clear link between detention for serious mental ill health and poverty. People from the 20% most deprived areas in Scotland accounted for 38.3% of emergency detentions, 32.2% of short-term detentions, and 29.6% of compulsory treatment orders.

The report also shows a higher number of detentions for people from ethnic minority groups compared to population levels. This is particularly significant in light of the recent report, Racial Inequality and Mental Health in Scotland: a call to action, also published by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland. Chapter 2 of this report, Trends and characteristics of detentions by ethnicity, provides more information on the data available on ethnicity and detentions. More on this report and the significance to independent advocacy organisations can be found here.

“The question is whether more people in the population are becoming more seriously unwell every year, with last year’s spike even more pronounced. Or whether services are under such pressure that people wait too long, and only receive care and treatment once they have become so unwell, they require to be detained.

“We are also very concerned over the way detentions are taking place. Consent of a mental health officer (a specialist social worker) is an important safeguard and should happen every time a person is detained using the Act. For emergency detentions, consent fell below half of all such detentions last year, with big variations in different parts of Scotland. This is unacceptable and unfair to patients, who should all receive the protection of this safeguard, no matter where they live in the country”.

Julie Paterson, chief executive of the Mental Welfare Commission (MWC)
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