Senior doctors have called for the government to tackle the underlying causes of detentions under the Act
“The numbers also show just how deeply embedded racial injustice is in our society – while some improvement has been made, Black people are still less likely to get support for their mental health when they first start to struggle, and far more likely to be detained and subject to excessive restrictions.” Sarah Hughes, chief executive, Mind
Black people are more than three times as likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act as white people, new figures show.
Between April 2022 and March 2023, 51,312 people were detained under the Act – a rate of 91 people in every 100,000. It represents a drop of nearly eight percent on the previous year.
Of those detained, 5,348 were Black – a rate of 228 per 100,000 people. This is a reduction from the previous year, when Black people were detained at a rate of 342 per 100,000, but it is still 3.6 times higher than the rate of detention among white people, which was 64 per 100,000.
Economically disadvantaged people were also more likely to be detained under the Act. A total of 7,973 people (148 per 100,000 people) detained were from the most deprived communities in England, compared to 2,101 (40 per 100,000 people) in the least deprived areas.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists welcomed the reduction in detentions among Black people, but said there was still a long way to go. The college’s president, Dr Lade Smith, said: “We have not seen sufficient action from government to tackle the underlying causes of detentions under the Mental Health Act. It is astonishing that in England in this day and age, being poor or being from a minoritised ethnic community means you are more likely to have a mental health problem, more likely to go into crisis and therefore more likely to be detained.”
Responding to the figures, NHS Providers said that mental health services in England were overstretched and understaffed. Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive, said:
“More people than before the pandemic are in contact with and being referred to mental health services, often with more complex needs, while nearly two million people are on waiting lists.”
She added: “If fewer detentions are the result of more people getting the help and care they need before reaching crisis point requiring use of the Act, then that is welcome. It is a significant concern, though, that detention rates for black and black British people are still significantly higher than other groups. We know that legislation to reform the Mental Health Act is long overdue.
Dr Sarah Hughes, chief executive of Mind, also expressed her concern about the stresses on the service: “Many of the tens of thousands of people who were detained under the Mental Health Act tried to seek help earlier, but the lack of options for accessing care in communities and long waiting lists meant they became more unwell.”
Hughes also expressed concern about the discrepancy in the numbers of Black people who were detained under the Act: “The numbers also show just how deeply embedded racial injustice is in our society – while some improvement has been made, Black people are still less likely to get support for their mental health when they first start to struggle, and far more likely to be detained and subject to excessive restrictions.”
The Centre for Mental Health highlighted the need for urgent reform of the Mental Health Act. Its chief executive, Andy Bell, said: “Today’s new data again exposes the stark inequalities inherent within this outdated legislation. Eight years since the former prime minister Theresa May committed to modernising the Mental Health Act, and five years since the Independent Review, we are still waiting for the Government to fulfil its promise.
“The current Mental Health Act – now 40 years old – reinforces mental health inequalities, with its disproportionate use among racialised communities and particularly Black people. The comprehensive review outlined changes to better safeguard people’s rights and dignity which are long overdue.
New figures show that the number of people detained under the Mental Health Act dropped between 2022 and 2023. If this is the result of fewer people experiencing mental health crisis, this is good news, though there may be other reasons at play, such as a greater reluctance to detain people. Doctors’ organisations and charities are right to draw attention to the continuing disparity in numbers of Black people and people in socially deprived areas being detained under the Act. The long-promised reform of the Mental Health Act is now well overdue, and we hope that the next government will prioritise implementing the changes outlined in the 2021 white paper.