Ethnicity has ‘no impact’ on odds of being detained under Mental Health Act, study finds

Study authors hope findings will put end to "lingering suspicion of institutional racism" in mental health care

The ethnicity of people who are assessed under the Mental Health Act has ‘no impact’ on the odds of them being detained, a Department of Health funded study has found.

An analysis of data from over 4,400 Mental Health Act assessments carried out across Birmingham, London and Oxford found that ethnicity by itself had “no significant effect” on the odds of detention. A person’s chances of being detained were increased by several factors including: a diagnosis of psychosis, female gender, if they lived in London or were housed in supported accommodation.

Variation in detention levels in ethnic groups is possibly due to location and “service provision [rather] than ethnicity per se”, the study concluded. The research only focused on information collected at Mental Health Act assessments so could not rule out “any ethnic bias” that existed in decisions over who is assessed, or in the care a person received following detention.

The study’s findings on ethnicity counter some of the longstanding concerns surrounding the overrepresentation of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds in coercive settings. In 2007, an editorial in the British Medical Journal criticised the “institutional racism in mental health care”.

Professor Swaran Singh of Warwick Medical School, the study’s lead author, said: “Hopefully these findings will allow us to move forward without the lingering suspicion of institutional racism in British psychiatry and reduce mistrust between minority communities and the mental health services.”

is Community Care’s community editor

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