More control is not the answer

Few people involved in service user or survivor organisations will
welcome the Mental Health Bill. Since the introduction of the
Mental Health Act 1983 there have been attempts to extend
compulsion into community settings. Most survivors have opposed
these, arguing that mental health workers have more than enough
powers over us and that what is needed is not more control but a
more accurate understanding of the survivor experience. One
significant defeat was aftercare under supervision, introduced in
in 1996. The current bill is two or three more steps in the wrong

It is not all bad news. The most important change for the better is
the introduction of an independent tribunal to oversee any period
of compulsory treatment beyond 28 days. And independent advocacy
gains a definite role. Both developments offer us better

But these changes are outweighed by the emphasis on compulsion. The
bill does not really address the central issue of why people with a
mental illness diagnosis should be compulsorily detained and
treated when they can make treatment decisions and are not a danger
to others. People with health problems of other kinds are not
subject to such interventions. To impose compulsory treatment on us
in this way is discriminatory.

To make matters worse, the new treatment order will extend
compulsory powers into the community, enabling mental health
workers to intervene, or threaten intervention, if we do not comply
with our “agreed” care plan. It will create a new category of
service user, living on a licence, compelled not only to take their
medication but to attend a day centre, employment project or
counselling session. Inevitably such a user will experience a
“halfway” life . Inevitably, the relationship between these service
users and their supervisors will be undermined.

The government claims it does not want more people to be subject to
compulsion. But how can this be avoided when the criteria for
intervention are so wide and people who do not need hospital care
may now be compulsorily treated? The goalposts are moving to allow
ever easier intervention. People with a severe and dangerous
personality disorder may even face long-term detention, although
they have committed no crime and there are no effective treatments

The current bill does not give us what we need. Without amendment,
it will become a bad act. We must fight to change the government’s

Peter Campbell is a survivor activist.

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