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Our contribution to the Draft Mental Health Bill

The ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health Lived Experience Advisory Board

06 February 2023

Research and policy conversations about mental health must be grounded in the perspectives of those with lived experience.

Since its inception, the ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health (CSMH) has been a collaborative research centre aimed at shifting public debate about mental health away from individualised interventions and towards social practices and policies that promote and sustain good mental health in communities. Central to this mission is the ethos that research and other outputs are co-produced with mental health service users and affected communities and groups. As the Lived Experience Advisory Board (LEAB) within the Centre, we seek to ground the Centre’s direction and wider conversations about mental health services in lived experiences such as:

  • Mental illness
  • Trauma
  • Caring for and supporting people in mental distress
  • Refusing mental health services
  • Iatrogenic harm, or harm caused by health services
I strongly believe that research should stem from, be produced with, and return to communities in real, tangible ways. I also believe community members themselves will always hold the most relevant knowledge about their experiences. Research and policy conversations about mental health, therefore, must be grounded in the perspectives of those with lived experience.– Madison Wempe, Lived Experience Advisory Board Coordinator

In September, we submitted comments to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Draft Mental Health Bill’s request for evidence and, on January 19th, the Committee released its report. This report included five references to our comments, which underscores the growing recognition of the importance of lived experience voices in these spaces.

The draft bill is an amendment to the Mental Health Act (MHA) of 1983, which governs the compulsory treatment of certain people with mental disorders. The MHA has been criticized for inadvertently increasing the rates of compulsory detentions in psychiatric hospital and disproportionately impacting Black people. The Draft Mental Health Bill seeks to modernize this legislation for the 21st Century.

We began our comments by outlining our vision for a socially just mental health care system, rooted in the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ (CPRD) principles of respect, equality, and accessibility. We then addressed three specific concerns with the proposed legislation:

  • Definition of therapeutic benefit and medical treatment. These terms are rooted in a biomedical, not social, approach to mental health and may be used to exclude people from getting care.
  • People with autism and learning disabilities. Removing these groups from the Mental Health Act may make them more vulnerable to being held under the Mental Capacity Act, which has fewer safeguards.
  • Places of safety. Unless adequate resources are channelled towards other places of safety, this may encourage the funnelling of individuals experiencing mental distress from the mental health care system to the criminal justice system.

We concluded by emphasizing that the Government must commit to meaningfully investing in care and culture change across all levels of the mental health care system, but, unfortunately, we are not encouraged by the more recent change in commitment to a 10-year cross-government mental health plan.    

The Centre’s commitment to working with our Board and the positive reception of our comments in the Joint Committee’s report is a positive step in the direction of valuing lived experience voices, but there are still barriers to overcome. Research and policy conversations, of any kind, must be developed with those who are and will continue to be affected by related outcomes and policy change.

Like what you read here?

Check out these websites to learn more about the work the Centre for Society and Mental Health, the Lived Experience Advisory Board, and our colleagues at the KCL Service User Research Enterprise are doing in this space:

The ESRC Centre for Society and Mental Health:

Lived Experience Advisory Board:

Service User Research Enterprise:

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