Mental Health Law and Policy
According to the Department of Health (DoH) 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health condition at some point in their life. For hundreds of years, laws and policies have covered mental health. As times and medicine advances, so do these acts and guidelines. Legislation exists to ensure that those who suffer from mental health conditions are cared for adequately in healthcare settings. In addition to this, these laws are also designed to protect those who suffer from mental health conditions from being discriminated against. Finally, there are laws in place that define when an individual can be sectioned, and when they can have their decision making rights withdrawn from them.
The Mental Health Act
The Mental Health Act was first established in 1983. Under this act, it is possible to detain a person in hospital against their wishes. This is something that only happens on rare occasions, and can only be carried out when a team of appropriate people have agreed that it is in the individual's best interests that they be admitted to hospital.
In order for a person to be admitted to hospital under the act, three separate entities must agree that they would benefit from this. This usually means an Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP), a doctor who has undergone specialist training, and another medical professional. It is preferred that the doctor agreeing to the admission is somebody familiar with the individual's medical history. When this happens, it is usually to protect the person concerned and those around them.
While this act permits sectioning, being sectioned is not an absolute order that the mentally ill person must give into. Under the act, each sectioned person has the right to contest their sectioning in an interview. This interview must take place in the person's home, at a safe place, in a police station, or in a hospital.
No sectioning is indefinite. Each person who is sectioned will be assessed continuously and their hospital stay will be reviewed periodically. By using a team of medical professionals, it is possible to determine whether the person who has been sectioned is fit to return home.
Mental Health and Healthcare
While 1 in 4 people in the UK may suffer from a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime, it does not mean that they are unable to care for their own health. The vast majority of those who have a mental health condition can make their own health decisions. Legally, each healthcare professional must approach a mentally unwell individual for consent, just as they would with anybody else. The rule of thumb is that you must assume that a mentally ill individual has the capacity to make their own healthcare decisions, regardless of what is on their medical record. This can always be challenged if it does not appear that the individual has the capacity to care for themselves, but each healthcare professional must follow set legal guidelines to establish whether capacity is present.
In addition to this, those who are mentally unwell are protected against discrimination in healthcare settings. You cannot be denied treatments or basic rights as a result of your mental health status.
Mental Health in the Workplace and in Education
When working and studying, all individuals who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition are entitled to disability rights. In order for these rights to be safeguarded, it is important that your workplace or academic institution is informed of your condition.
The legislation protecting those who suffer from mental health conditions ensures that their working needs are met. This may mean regular breaks to reduce stress, or time away when a GP recommends that this is needed. As far as academic institutions are concerned, this means not discriminating against those who find learning challenging as a result of their condition. This means that a teacher or lecturer cannot penalise a student who does not appear to understand what is expected of them academically, just because they suffer from a mental health condition.
Legislation also ensures that you are not discriminated against during any application process. If you clearly state that you suffer from a disability in the form of a mental health condition on any application form, you cannot be denied an interview on this basis. Similarly, it is usually illegal for a workplace or academic institution to purposefully ask you about your mental health status during an interview. However, there are exceptions. If these questions are being asked so that the interviewer can broaden access to education and work, or for safety purposes, they are within their legal rights to make an enquiry.
Finally, you cannot be suspended or expelled from your studies or workplace as a result of your mental health condition. Doing this is illegal, and can lead to serious consequences.
Mental Health Law and Policy Governing Bodies
To ensure you remain protected from discrimination, and to safeguard your health, there are several governing bodies and charities in place. One of these is Rethink. Rethink is a mental health charity that focuses on providing support and information to those who suffer from mental health conditions. By making sure you are armed with information, they can help you remain empowered in every aspect of your life. They are also there to provide additional guidance when things do not go well.
The Department of Health is also available to provide guidance regarding mental health. This guidance can be accessed by healthcare workers, social workers, and other individuals who work in the public sector. In addition to this, it is available to those who suffer from a mental health condition and would like to know more about how the law protects them. Through the DoH website, it is also possible to see what the latest news and developments are in this area.
Mental health law and policy in the UK are extensive. By creating such extensive guidelines, it is possible to make sure that those who have a mental health condition can receive adequate care, free from discrimination.