The Mental Health Act does need reform – and services need more money

(31 July, 2019) Editorials

It’s time to put funding in the right places, reform the mental health act, and give people like Neil’s mother the dignity they deserve

31210Neil, his mum and siblings Alex, Matt, Mark and Sebastian

Neil Coyle’s story will be all too familiar to anyone living with a chronic mental health condition or with a family member struggling to get the care they need.

Much has changed since the 1980s, when his mother was first detained – sectioned -and given her diagnosis.

Treatments are better, care more humane, and our understanding of the condition – which is believed to have both genetic and environmental causes – more informed.

People with mental health problems are far more likely to hurt themselves than the people around them, but with the right support can live and work and have ‘normal’ lives.

Today though, shockingly, only five per cent of people with schizophrenia – like Neil’s mum – are in work. Because, quite simply, the right interventions and support just aren’t there.

When issues aren’t addressed as soon as possible, things escalate to crisis point.

For Coyle, this meant his half-brother was taken into care. His mother has also been convicted for a driving offence long after he and his siblings repeatedly raised the alarm she had stopped taking her medication.

Someone as unwell as her should never have been in court.

Frustratingly, as a child and teenager he often went for weeks without seeing her in hospital and had next to no input into the type of care she received, knowing her pills were making her vomit constantly to the point of losing her teeth, and causing severe weight gain.

Today, forced treatments and restrains are still being used in some detention units. But alternatives may be less traumatic on the patient but still have the same effect.

Detentions separate families and are hugely expensive. The human cost is most painful, but the financial cost – tens of thousands per stay – is one the NHS can ill-afford.

It’s time to put funding in the right places, reform the mental health act, and give people like Neil’s mother the dignity they deserve.

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