Thursday, June 30, 2022

Addressing racial disparities in application of the Mental Health Act

Black people are four times more likely to be detained in psychiatric hospital under the Mental Health Act (MHA) and ten times more likely to be subject to a Community Treatment Order (CTO) than white people. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care claimed that the draft mental health bill recently announced (see last post) will tackle these disparities. This was said to be because of greater scrutiny of decision-making, including a greater use of second opinions on important decisions and expanded access to tribunals. I have been concerned that the reforms may not go far enough to change the current discriminatory nature of the Act (see eg. previous post). 

I wanted to look further at the situation of access to second opinions, which the Secretary of State said would be improved by the draft bill. Certain treatments require the involvement of Second Opinion Approved Doctors (SOADs) appointed by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). If a patient is not consenting to treatment, SOADs currently merely have to certify that it is appropriate that the recommended treatment is given. Their role has been criticised as merely a rubber-stamping exercise. 

The other way patients can obtain a second opinion is if this is requested from an independent expert by the patient's solicitor as part of the process of appeal against detention to the Mental Health Tribunal (MHT). I don't think there's anything in the draft bill that will necessarily increase the availability of these independent opinions, which are probably not as common as they should be. 

The independent expert opinion has the advantage over the SOAD opinion that it is given on behalf of the patient (see previous post), although the focus of the MHT decision for which the opinion has been requested by the patient's solicitor is on detention rather than treatment. The SOAD tends to look at the Responsible Clinician's (RC's) treatment plan to decide if it is appropriate, rather than necessarily considering the patient's point of view, although the CQC says SOADs should decide whether due consideration has been given to the views and rights of the patient when deciding whether the treatment recommended by the RC is clinically defensible (see webpage).

There are welcome changes, which I had not anticipated, in the draft bill that clarify the role of SOADs and I think should make the SOAD certification process less of a 'rubber-stamping' exercise. In particular, SOADs will have a duty under a new section 56(B) to ensure that the RC and other clinicians are complying with another new section 56(A) to follow a 'clinical checklist' when treatment is given under the Act. This checklist includes: that the patient’s wishes and feelings as far as reasonably ascertainable are considered; reasonably practicable steps are taken to assist and to encourage the patient to participate in treatment decisions; people close to the patient are consulted; and any available forms of medical treatment are identified and evaluated. Making these duties of both RCs and SOADs clearer and legal will be helpful, I think.

As far as independent expert opinion on behalf of the patient is concerned, I have been arguing that advocacy services need to be commissioned as an integrated service of Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs), mental health lawyers and independent experts (see eg. previous post). This will strengthen advocacy arrangements in the interests of the patient.  I would argue that an improved integrated advocacy service should actually reduce the number of tribunals, as tribunals should only be needed if there is no agreement between the advocacy service and the Responsible Clinician (RC) about the care plan. In this respect there has been a 'watering down' of the White paper in the draft bill, as the White paper talked about legislating for appeal to the Tribunal on treatment as well as detention decisions. This proposal has been dropped. If it is not going to be reinstated, the bill could still create a right for a patient to have a second opinion of their own choice for medical, nursing and social matters, which would have to be considered by the RC. Even if there is no right to appeal to the MHT if there is any conflict with the RC, the degree of conflict created by legislating for the right to a second opinion nonetheless can be assessed over time, and if needed, consideration given to amending the new Act in due course so that appeals can be made to the Tribunal on treatment matters.

Furthermore, as mentioned above, there is even more disparity for black people for CTOs than there is for detention. Changes are being made to the criteria for CTOs but I'm not convinced these changes will necessarily reduce their use. In fact, the evidence is that CTOs are not effective and I think should be repealed, or at least no new CTOs enacted.  I have had some correspondence with DHSC civil servants about the evidence base and they seem to be saying that the feedback from some patients is that CTOs are helpful, which is true. I have asked, though, whether CTOs are being continued not on the basis of the evidence but because of a minority view of patients who are complying with the CTO anyway. I was told I would get an answer but instead have been offered a meeting instead. Certainly, I would say the lived experience amongst black people does not support the continuation of CTOs or at least any new orders being made. In fact, both Mind and NSUN said in the response to the White paper consultation that CTOs should be repealed. 

More generally, I'm not convinced the draft Bill is as compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD) as it should be. The new sections 56(A) and (B), though, may well help in this regard. The World Health Organisation (WHO) in collaboration with the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights (OHCHR) is undertaking an international review of WHO guidance on mental health law in line with CRPD to be held from 1 July to 31 August. The aim is to obtain feedback from national stakeholders on the content of the draft guidance, which will be available online from 1st July. I think this draft guidance will be able to inform debate about the draft bill, perhaps particularly about disparities.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Draft mental health bill announced

The government has announced a draft mental health bill together with better support for people in crisis. I just wanted to pick up on how the draft bill is presented as modernising legislation from almost 40 years ago. Both the 1959 and 1983 Mental Health Acts were progressive Acts, associated with opening of the doors of the traditional asylum and dehospitalisation (see eg. my eletter). What's quietly forgotten is that a root and branch reform of the 1983 Act was initiated from 1999, followed by a several year process of expert review, green and white papers, draft Bill with parliamentary scrutiny and an actual bill. Because of opposition, particularly to the introduction of community treatment orders (CTOs), the 1983 Act was merely amended in 2007, rather than there being, as originally planned, a new Mental Health Act (MHA). CTOs were still introduced in these amendments despite the controversy.

There was some progressive change in the 2007 amendments, such as the introduction of Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs), However, in my view, this development was never properly funded and the draft Bill announced yesterday could have done more to develop advocacy further (see previous post). Although there are amendments being made to CTOs, there was no consultation on this issue in the White paper leading to the draft bill yesterday. In fact several organisations, such as Mind and the National Survivor User Network (NSUN), in their responses to the White paper, suggested CTOs should be repealed and I agree, or at least, no further CTOs should be enacted. There is little evidence of the effectiveness of CTOs.

It could, therefore, be seen as misleading to view the current reforms as merely modernising mental health law from 40 years ago. They need to be understood in the context of the last attempt to reform the 1983 Act, which led to the 2007 amendments. There has been a over-preoccupation with risk in mental health services over recent years, which has been counter-productive (see eg. previous post). True, the current reforms have been more motivated by reducing detention and inequalities in services than managing risk. But they do not go far enough in taking forward the 1959 and 1983 Acts to improve the rights of people with mental health problems (see eg. last post). The draft Mental Health bill also needs to be associated more specifically with the reduction of the use of force in mental health services, as in Seni’s law (see another previous post).

Monday, May 30, 2022

Pre-legislative scrutiny of Mental Health Act reform

I mentioned in my last post that there will be a draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill, probably this summer, which will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny in the autumn with a Bill potentially next spring. I just wanted to make clear what I thought should be in the draft Bill (see eg. previous post), although it seems most of the proposals in the government response to the White paper will go through into the draft Bill (see my summary). My understanding is that two main proposals will be dropped from the White paper consultation response. Firstly, the proposal for the Tribunal to be able to require the Responsible Clinician to reconsider a specific treatment decision will be dropped, which I think is unfortunate. Secondly, the proposal to give powers to A&E professionals to require individuals in need of urgent mental health care to stay on site pending a clinical assessment will also be dropped, which I think is the right decision. It’s also unclear to me whether there will be proper funding for mental health advocacy, which in my view was never properly funded when introduced by the 2007 amendments to the Act. 

I’m not sure how much scope for amendment there will be in the parliamentary process. As I said in my last post, I'm hoping that pre-legislative scrutiny will allow an examination of whether the draft Bill complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). I don't think the government is right that current legislation, let alone the draft Bill, does. The legal capacity of people with mental health problems needs to be protected even though they may not have mental capacity.

A CRPD compliant law would ensure that people with mental health problems are supported in their decision making. When they receive that support they must be protected against abuse. People should have access to support from people they trust in their social network and community. Formal identification of a nominated person as proposed by the government should be helpful in this respect, although the rights of the family also need to be protected. As I've been arguing, I think mental health advocacy can be improved by a more integrated service of IMHAs, mental health lawyers and independent experts (see eg. previous post). Such a service would be commissioned via integrated care system (ICS) arrangements. Mental health lawyers and independent experts would continue to be paid via legal aid.

A Mental Health Tribunal will only be needed if the new properly funded advocacy service cannot persuade the Responsible Clinician (RC) to go along with its suggestions. It would require reinstatement of the idea, which, as I said, will apparently be dropped in the draft Bill, of extending the role of the Tribunal to treatment as well as detention decisions. This arrangement should cut down dramatically on the number of Tribunals. Current proposals just seem to be accepting of the all too common number of Tribunals which are held. The number of tribunals needs to be reduced. My proposal will also mean that Second Opinion Approved Doctors (SOADs) from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) will not be needed and can be abolished, as the 'second opinion' if needed, will come from the advocacy service rather than needing a so-called approved doctor, who in practice too often merely 'rubber stamps' the RC decisions. It's far better that patients themselves can choose who provides the second opinion (see eg. another previous post).

These Tribunal changes and abolition of SOADs will be cost-saving. If further savings are needed, personally I have no objections to Tribunals being reduced to a single judge for all decisions. As far as treatment decisions are concerned, a single judge makes the decision if a case goes to judicial review. The current problem is that this does happen very often at all. What I'm suggesting is that such cases should be dealt with under the remit of legal aid. All savings in the arrangements I’m suggesting can be invested in mental health advocacy.

The introduction of a new form of supervised community discharge for criminal cases is controversial and I think probably should be abandoned. The need for it is not clear to me and the history of introducing such enforced community arrangements should encourage caution. It also doesn't seem to fit with the thrust of the reform changes to reduce coercion.

As I have also mentioned before (see eg.  previous post), one of the purposes of the draft bill is to make it easier for people with learning disabilities to be discharged from hospital. Personally, I think the same aim should apply to people with serious mental illness (SMI) as well. Too many people with learning disability and SMI are ending up in inappropriate secure care. I think all civil detentions to secure hospitals should just be prohibited. As far as I am concerned, secure provision should just be reserved for criminal cases to provide its function of alternative to prison. My proposal would encourage a focus on more appropriate open and informal care care for civil cases, which will improve community care.

I look forward to seeing all these issues debated by parliamentarians.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Parliamentary scrutiny of draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill

I think a key question for parliamentary scrutiny of the draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill (when it is published - see background notes) will be whether the legal capacity of people with mental health problems will be protected even though they may not have mental capacity (see last post). The Joint Committee on Human Rights is calling for evidence. New legislation needs to be compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Even though the UK government is saying that its mental health legislation is compliant, I do not think this is the case (see Disability News Service article).

I think the independent review chaired by Simon Wessely (see previous post), on which the draft legislation will be based through consultation on a White paper (see another previous post), was too influenced by the general comments by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, particularly its 11 April 2014 comment, which has been criticised by Freeman et al (2015) amongst others. From my perspective, CRPD does not completely prevent the detention of people with psychosocial disability as long as it is on the same basis as anybody else. If properly legislated for, it should lead to a dramatic reduction in coercion in mental health services (see eg. previous post). The fundamental problem with mental health legislation is that it is discriminatory and this must change.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Creating CRPD compliant mental health legislation

Coercion needs to be reduced in mental health care (see eg. previous post). Mahomed et al (2022) promote the development of supported decision making regimes to eliminate substituted decision making and coercion in mental health care. As the article notes, "Some in the clinical community remain doubtful about the practicality of ...  [ such] provisions" (see previous post). It is true that there are situations in which implementation of supported decision making is a challenge.  I agree with the argument of the article that these concerns should be seen as "opportunities for dialogue" rather than a reason for dismissing the replacement of substituted by supported decision making. Change is required in mental health law because of the unacceptably high current prevalence of human rights violations within mental health settings (see previous post).

WHO QualityRights Core Training has a helpful training and guidance tool on 'Legal capacity and the Right to Decide'. There are a course guide and course slides. One of the main aims of the module is to understand article 12 of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and the right to legal capacity. The right to legal capacity is guaranteed by Article 12 of the CRPD. 

People with disabilities have rights and responsibilities like anyone else. They have the right to receive support to help them make decisions and when they receive that support they must be protected against abuse. There is a distinction between legal and mental capacity and disabled people should not be denied the right to make a decision merely because other people do not agree with it and attribute it to their disability. How well people make decisions varies and disabled people should not be discriminated against. Flawed use of mental capacity tests has led to the denial of the right to legal capacity (see previous post). 

Article 12 of the CRPD makes clear that the right to legal capacity can never be taken away from a person. A psychosocial, intellectual or cognitive disability can never justify denying someone the right to legal capacity. Having the right to legal capacity at all times does not mean that people never need or want support in making their decisions (see eg. previous post). 

People should have access to the support of people they trust. Support also has to be tailored to the individual. For example, someone in the early stages of dementia may require less support than in later years. It is the need for support that may fluctuate not the right to exercise legal capacity. Formal professional support should not replace informal support provided by the person's social network and community. 

Support must be based on the will and preferences of the person. Best interpretation of will and preferences needs to replace best interests determinations in decision making law. Supported decision making is a completely different approach to decision making which puts the person at the centre of the decision. Independent support advocacy should be available (see eg. previous post). Obtaining informed consent to treatment is essential in respecting the right to legal capacity. People should not be discriminated against on the basis of a disability. 

People with disabilities can only be detained on the same basis (or for the same reasons) as anybody else. Detention can be violent and abusive, which can amount to torture and ill-treatment in violation of articles 15 and 16 of CRPD. People with disabilities have a right to respect for their physical and mental integrity on an equal basis with others under article 17 of CRPD. They have a right to live independently and to be included in the community under article 19. Health care professionals are required to provide care on the basis of free and informed consent under article 25.

Progress needs to be made in the reduction of coercion in mental health services. Treatment of people with mental health problems should not be unjust or prejudicial. Discrimination within mental health law must end.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Mental health crisis amongst young people?

Sami Timimi (2022), who I’ve mentioned before (see eg. previous post), provides a very helpful contribution to the Psychological Medicine debate about whether antidepressants and ECT are the answer to depression (see eg. last post). What I want to pick up on is what he says about the effect of  ‘desigmatisation’ campaigns on helping people, particularly young people, identify their mental health problems (see previous post). 

Encouraging young people and their families to talk about their problems has created, as Sami says, “a disastrous tsunami … to sweep them away”. He goes on:-

Young people, their parents, and their teachers [have] developed an awareness that ‘illnesses’ like depression are all around us, and you could be one of those affected. … You start to notice how bad you feel sometimes and wonder why you feel like this. Could it be that you are developing a mental disorder?


Sami references a very good Channel 4 Dispatches programme ‘Young, British and Depressed’, in which he appeared. He quotes figures from a survey undertaken for the programme. 68% of young people thought they have had or are currently experiencing a mental health problem. Of those, 62% thought that ‘de-stigmatisation’ campaigns helped them to identify it. Do the majority of young people really have a mental health problem? Surely it’s not meaningful to frame the emotional problems of young people in this way. As Sami says, “This alienation from, and fear of, … emotional turmoil … is the terrifying result of … [a] moral panic about mental health”. He goes on:-

The scene has been perfectly set up for transforming the challenges, confusions, intensity, and changes that happen as we grow and develop, particularly in our adolescent years, into potential obstacles, dysfunctions, dysregulations, and disorders, that can be neatly packaged and given ‘treatments’ to get rid of them.


The mental health system is clearly not functioning for young people. To quote again from Sami, “The perseverative call for more resources is the standard juvenile political response to the chaos our incoherent logic has caused”. Let’s hope the current national review of mental health strategy (see Call for evidence) does something about this situation. Mental health services need to be transformed and the aim to expand them needs to be rethought. Everyone, and perhaps particularly young people, are suffering because of this cultural process to create panaceas for emotional problems. They don’t always work and may create more problems than they are worth. Mental health is too important to leave to the professionals alone.

Blinding psychiatric critique with science

The article by John Read and Joanna Moncrieff, which I've mentioned before (eg. see previous post) on 'Depression: Why drugs and electricity are not the answer' has provoked even more responses. If the one by Goldberg and Nasrallah (2022) is the best case that biomedical psychiatry can make, then it is clearly in trouble. Within the limited space they had, Moncrieff and Read (2022) make a partial response.

The problem is that Goldberg & Nasrallah are blinding people with science. They've not really engaging with psychiatric critique. Most people do not understand  the scientific jargon they use and quote. For example, Jay Joseph (see his guest post) can undermine what they've said about the genetics of depression in a single tweet. But most people are not on top of the literature as he is. Interpretation, at least, of the evidence that Goldberg & Nasrallah give is wrong but it's not apparent from the complex way in which they present it. 

I'm sure speculative papers like Goldberg & Nasrallah will continue to try and present themselves as facts. But it's not a very firm foundation for psychiatric practice.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Towards a psychiatry fit for purpose

Pat Bracken (2022) responds in a more positive way to the review by Read and Moncrieff (2022) 'Depression: Why drugs and electricity are not the answer' than previously published commentaries (see previous post and another). As he says, "Engaging in a non-defensive manner to the sort of evidence summarised by Read and Moncrieff will be a move in the right direction for the profession". It's good to see Psychological Medicine engaging with this debate.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Blaming chemical imbalance in the brain for depression does not make sense

Ang et al (2022) found that 23 out of 30 papers between 1990 and 2010 reviewing the aetiology of depression explicitly discussed the serotonin hypothesis and that 11 of them unequivocally supported the hypothesis. Another 9 papers, mainly stressed that depression is caused by an interaction of a multiplicity of factors and acknowledged the inconsistencies of the research on serotonin function, but nonetheless suggested that serotonin abnormalities mediate depressive symptom production or effects of antidepressants. Only one paper discounted the hypothesis. Of another 30 papers specifically examining the link between serotonin and depression, 16 gave unequivocal support for serotonin having a direct role in the aetiology of depression and only one discounted or challenged the hypothesis. Six well-known psychiatry and psychopharmacology textbooks published in the same period all acknowledged that the serotonin hypothesis is ultimately a hypothesis and not necessarily proven, but nevertheless devoted considerable space to coverage of the theory, providing some degree of support or endorsement for the hypothesis. 

The article therefore confirms that the serotonin theory has been endorsed by the professional and academic community. Psychiatrists need to take responsibility for promoting the theory (see previous post). Psychiatry has always held out the hope that it will find the answer to mental illness but it needs to accept its limitations (see eg. another previous post). Although it may seem to make sense to us that we should be able to find a biological cause for mental illness, such as chemical imbalance in the brain, that doesn't justify wish-fulfilling unproven phantasies and even their publication in the academic literature (see yet another previous post). In fact, it's people that become depressed, not their brains, whether chemically imbalanced or not (see previous post).

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Doctors have made too many people dependent on antidepressants

Publication of the NICE guidance on ‘Medicines associated with dependence or withdrawal symptoms: Safe prescribing and withdrawal management for adults’ has not resolved controversy about antidepressant withdrawal. For example, the All Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence accuses NICE of failing to listen to patient evidence (see press release). To be fair, NICE probably couldn’t go further based on current evidence but I agree that it has left ambiguity about this issue.

Although NICE admits that there is considerable debate about the definitions of dependence and addiction, it clearly states that antidepressants cause withdrawal symptoms even though they have not historically been classified as dependence-forming medicines. It sees dependence as characterised by tolerance and withdrawal symptoms. Addiction is said to include the additional characteristics of cravings, lack of control, overuse and continued use despite harm, associated with problematic behaviours.

Dependence and addiction in common parlance tend to mean difficulty in managing without the drug (see my webpage). An effort may be required to do without the drug. It is a psychological state, although it can also be physical. The drug may need to be continued or withdrawal symptoms may occur in its absence.

Regular and frequent use of some substances, such as alcohol and opiates, can cause tolerance, so that people experience withdrawal symptoms in the absence of the drug. This is what is meant by physical dependence. Dependence on antidepressants, and more generally, is not just physical (see previous post). 

People are being indoctrinated into believing they need antidepressants (see eg. previous post). No wonder they may have difficulty in stopping them. Doctors need to take responsibility for making so many patients dependent on antidepressants.

The mereological fallacy in psychiatry

The category mistake of identifying the part with the whole was called the mereological fallacy by Bennett & Hacker (2003). The second edition of their book Philosophical foundations of neuroscience (2021) has created a separate chapter (3) dealing with this conceptual problem. For psychiatry this is about identifying the brain with the person (see eg. last post). Peter Hacker refutes the rationale of the mereological fallacy in neuroscience in a YouTube video

Psychiatric critique needs to challenge the common mistake in psychiatry that it is the brain that perceives, thinks, feels and intends to do things. Such reasoning doesn’t make sense. Psychiatry treats people living in relationships, not their brains.

Saturday, April 02, 2022

More on taking psychiatric critique seriously

Carmine Pariante, who I've mentioned several times before (eg. see previous post), asks in a Psychological Medicine article "Why is it so difficult to say ... the brain regulates emotions and behaviours, in the same way that the heart pumps blood, the stomach absorbs nutrients and the spleen hosts immune cells?" Of course he's right that the brain mediates relational and intentional processes (see previous post). But people feel and act, not their brains, nor even their minds nor their consciousness (see another previous post). To be alive, a person has to be whole. The brain is only part of the person; an organ, like the heart, stomach and spleen, but not the seat of the person as such.

Psychiatry is the science and practice of biological, psychological and social relationships of people and their disorders. Despite what Pariante says, this is not a dualist position (see eg. previous post). A correctly understood biological psychiatry requires an adequate concept of biology, namely that of life bound to the entire organism and its interaction with the environment (see eg. previous post). Psychiatry's primary object, despite Pariante again, is not the brain but the person living in relationships. This fundamental failure to appreciate this philosophical reality is damaging psychiatry.

Pariante, therefore, does not realise that it is not possible in principle to reduce mental illness to brain disease (see previous post). He believes what he calls "the humongous evidence that there are neurochemical abnormalities in people with depression" must be true. But he neglects to say that such evidence is plagued by so many confounders and inconsistencies that it's not possible to say what the biological causes, as such, of depression are. He doesn't say what they are because he can't.

As I said in my last post, biomedical psychiatry needs to take seriously its critique. Pariante has a long way to go to do that.

Friday, April 01, 2022

Taking psychiatric critique seriously

Aftab et al (2022) critique the philosophical and conceptual basis of an article by Read & Moncrieff (2022) about why drugs and ECT are not the answer for depression. I have sympathy with their argument that binary opposition between understanding depression as medical illness and meaningful response to life events is problematic. However, having detected this flaw, Aftab et al then justify not dealing with, even dismissing, the main focus of the Read & Moncrieff article on the effectiveness and safety of antidepressants and ECT.

Aftab et al clearly find it difficult to give up hypotheses of antidepressants (and presumably ECT) correcting biological dysfunction, speculating that antidepressants may enhance synaptic neuroplasticity. They do not seem to fully appreciate that enactive accounts of psychiatry, such as that by Sanneke de Haan (see previous post), provide a philosophical and conceptual critique of naturalistic-reductive approaches to human understanding by focusing on the person as embodied and alive (see eg. another previous post). Aftab et al’s view is what Manschrek & Kleinman (1977) called semi-critical as it doesn’t follow through sufficiently on its critique of the biomedical model (see eg. my article). As I have been arguing throughout this blog, psychiatry needs to move on from its eclectic biopsychosocial view (eg. see previous post and another and yet another) and return to Engel’s original concept of the biopsychopsychosocial model, which was a critique of reductionism in psychiatry and medicine in general (see eg. another previous post). Critical/relational psychiatry is explicitly anti-reductionist and anti-positivist whereas Aftab et al are not. Their approach to psychiatry is still not sufficiently person-centred. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Including people with personal difficulties in mental health services

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has cancelled a Personality Disorders course (see statement), following concern on Twitter about a flyer for the event (eg. see tweet). I wasn’t totally happy either about the College’s January 2020 position statement on personality disorder (see previous post). 

There is of course some truth in the statement in the flyer that personality disorder is a “thorn in the flesh of many clinicians”. It may not be seen as a proper mental disorder because it’s not mental illness. Some psychiatrists may prefer dealing with what they see as the substance of real mental illness. It’s also commonly a label for people seen as difficult. The minority that seek treatment, according to the flyer, do so “often in a dysfunctional manner” by causing problems. The course was supposed to equip psychiatrists to deal with these kind of people with which they can’t win either way whether they get involved or not.

I guess we all have personality difficulties, some more than others. Psychopathic disorder meaning a “persistent disorder or disability of mind which results in abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible conduct on the part of the person concerned” was removed from specific mention in the Mental Health Act 1983 as a kind of personality disorder by the 2007 amendments, although the definition of mental disorder became very broad. I have expressed concern that the proposed removal of learning disability from the Mental Health Act will in a way potentially encourage the reintroduction of the notion of psychopathic disorder (see eg. previous post). More generally, psychiatry does need to become more inclusive in its services for people with personal difficulties, whatever pattern of problems may be present because their personality.

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Social critique of psychiatry

Joanna Moncrieff, who I’ve mentioned before several times (see eg. previous post), analyses the mental health system from a Marxist perspective in a recent article. Marxist theory has been used in critical mental health writings (see eg. my review of book edited by Bruce Cohen). Psychiatry has been seen as a mechanism of social control of behaviour regarded as threatening the stability of the capitalist system. Framing social problems as individual pathology can divert attention away from the political and socioeconomic origins of mental health problems. Interestingly, Jo takes a kind of 'labelling theory' view of mental illness as  “simply the collection of challenging situations that remain when [for example] those that are amenable to the criminal justice system … are taken out of the picture” (see my review of Thomas Scheff’s classic book).

Jo wants to question the notion that mental illness is located in the individual. However, as I pointed out in a previous post, Aubrey Lewis noted that maladaptive behaviour is only pathological if it is accompanied by a disturbance of psychological functioning. Social criteria play no part in the diagnosis of mental illness as such. In a way, that fits with Jo's perspective as she doesn’t really accept the term ‘mental illness’, although she persists with it as “there are no widely accepted alternative ways to describe the problems in question”. 

The social function of psychiatry cannot really be denied as psychiatry manages madness on behalf of society. As Jo notes, “One of the functions of mental health services is to provide support and care for people when they are unable to look after themselves”. I would say this is a reasonable function of the state to support those with mental incapacity and includes intervening to prevent harm to others as well as the person themselves. Modern psychiatry did not really come into existence in the way we understand it now until the local authority asylums were built. The early alienists identified insane individuals who were deserving of poor relief on the basis of their mental state. As I said in the section on Foucault in a previous post, the birth of the asylum needs to be seen as a later phase of what Foucault called the ‘great confinement’, when the mad were extracted from places of confinement and placed into asylums specifically designed for their treatment. Similarly in modern welfare, the mentally ill receive sickness and disability benefits distinguished from unemployment benefits.

Jo says a Marxist analysis “suggests that the [psychiatric] institutions were closed because of the desire to reduce public spending”. I’m sure there was this element in the intention to replace the asylums by community care, although properly implemented community care may well in fact cost proportionately more. But the prime motivation was what David Clark called the 'dismay and disgust with the asylum system'. Attempts were made to make hospitals more therapeutic by opening the locked doors (see eg. my webpage). Essentially, the asylum became irrelevant to the bulk of mental health problems. I do agree with Jo that it is a national scandal the way mentally ill and learning disabled people who are difficult to manage or place have been shipped out of the NHS, but it isn’t just the privatisation of services that’s the problem but also their level of security and risk aversive nature (see eg. my eletter).

I also agree with Jo about the problems of increasing social inequality and poor social mobility over recent years, even if I don’t frame this within a Marxist critique of neo-liberal capitalism as she does. There have also been problems with a target culture created by the Risk Society, which has contributed to a reinstitutionalisation of mental health services over recent years (see eg. previous post). I'm certainly not against the mental health system becoming more transparent and democratic as Jo wants. It should be about encouraging the independence of people as much as they want and are able to be. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Psychiatry should not fear the introduction of CRPD compliant services

Peter McGovern argues in a BJPsych article that rights and recovery-orientated services should be at the centre not the margins of psychiatry (see my twitter thread with quotes or amended quotes from the article). As the event details of the upcoming conference mentioned in my last post say, Mental Health Act reform needs to comply with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) (see eg. previous post). CRPD recognises and promotes the use of supportive rather than substitute decision-making (see eg. another previous post). 

The introduction of Seni’s law (see previous post) should encourage learning from incidents where services have had to resort to the use of force. Psychiatrists must stop endorsing traumatic clinical practice and coercing people into complying with treatments they may actually not find very helpful (see eg. previous post and yet another).

Sunday, February 06, 2022

What does it mean that mental health has got worse in the pandemic?

I thought I’d join what’s called the nation’s biggest mental health conversation, following Time to Talk Day recently. A survey in the East of England found that more than one in 6 adults who say their mental health has got worse during the pandemic have not spoken to anyone about it (see East Anglian Daily Times article). I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that 38% of respondents report a worsening of their mental health during the pandemic. As I said in a previous post, the impact of the pandemic should not be underestimated. The viral illness has led to deaths, together with lockdowns to prevent deaths, which have caused significant grief and disruption.

Lucy Foulkes, in her book Losing our Minds (see my review), notes how the conversation about mental health changed even before the pandemic. For example, Time to Change was a social movement, led by Mind and Rethink between 2007-21 to alter the way people think and act about mental health problems. Similarly, the Heads Together campaign of the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is typical of these kind of initiatives aimed at reducing stigma and discrimination about mental health problems by encouraging people to talk about them. But as Lucy Foulkes points out, despite these campaigns there is still limited understanding of what mental disorders are, what causes them and how they are treated. 

As the Beatles said in their song ‘Help!’, we may well need someone when we’re not feeling so self-assured. But although the NHS promotes this song in its mental health campaign (see my tweet), I’m not convinced that people should necessarily be looking to the NHS when they feel so insecure. After all, the Beatles did say “Help! Not just anybody. Help!” [my emphasis]! Not that a suitable therapist may not be the right person to go to in such a situation. But someone else outside of services may be as well. We all need others at times. We might have more resources to be able to deal with our problems than we think. In fact it may not make much sense even to see dealing with the stresses and strains of life as a mental health problem. A lot of what mental health professionals actually do is help people understand and deal with their difficulties. People might just need pointing in the right direction if they can't make progress sorting out their problems without coming to services. That doesn’t necessarily require a commitment to undertake a personal therapy or the taking of medication.

Although there may not be a clear dividing line between normality and mental disorder, not all negative emotions and experiences should be labelled as mental disorder. Over recent years there has been a considerable increase in numbers of people seen by mental health services. But this rising demand does not necessarily reflect increasing need. Mental health services should prioritise those with the most need. In fact they seem reluctant to admit this. All I'm trying to do is help develop a better narrative. Although it has become common to blame the pandemic for long waiting lists and difficulty in accessing services, overmedicalising stress and unhappiness does not necessarily help (see previous post). I do worry about the rather oversimplistic message that services seem to be giving to people at times (see previous post). It seems counter-productive. Hopefully the pandemic will actually help us deal with these issues better.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Use of force in mental health services

Seni's law, also known as the Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Act 2018, will come into effect on 31 March 2022 (see Mind press release) . The government published guidance at the end of last year to support its implementation. 

As the guidance says, "For too long the use of force has been accepted as the norm in many mental health services". People’s dignity and their civil and political rights must be respected. Although there may be circumstances in which it may be difficult to avoid the use of force, any compulsory treatment should only be used as a last resort after all other treatment and non-treatment options have been considered and excluded, and only when needed to prevent serious and imminent harm to people (see previous post). The aim should be to eliminate seclusion and segregation (see previous post). Restraint, including chemical restraint, needs to be regulated (see eg. previous post). Progress in removal of compulsion should be compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disability (CRPD) (see eg. yet another previous post). 

NHS and independent hospitals must appoint a 'responsible person' to produce a policy to reduce the use of force in mental health units and collect data on any use of force. These figures will be published nationally. Staff must receive appropriate training. Hospitals have been given time to ensure Seni's law is implemented and I look forward to seeing its impact in reducing coercion.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Reaction against the neo-Kraepelinian approach

Jerome Wakefield has an article in World Psychiatry on the 'credo' of nine propositions of the neo-Kraepelinian movement. One of my articles examined the same nine assumptions from the hypothetical critical point of view of Adolf Meyer. 

I agree with Wakefield that Robert Spitzer, Chair of the DSM-III taskforce, should not necessarily be seen as a typical neo-Kraepelinian. Spitzer was very clear that, from his point of view, DSM-III was atheoretical (see eg. previous post). I also agree with Wakefield that Spitzer was concerned to counter anti-psychiatric critiques (see eg. another of my articles), particularly the study by Rosenhan (1973) 'On being sane in insane places' (see previous post). The subsequent DSM-5 has of course failed (see eg. previous post).

Where I think Wakefield may have missed a point is that Klerman anticipated a neo-Meyerian revival. He does mention that Klerman noted there was bound to be "a reaction against what will be perceived as the [neo-Kraepelinian] movement’s excesses”. As I said in my 1990 article, this response has been "slow to be formulated". I’ve always argued that critical/relational psychiatry is a neo-Meyerian position in psychiatry (see eg. my talk). 

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

In defence of the human being

Thomas Fuchs (who I've mentioned several times previously eg. see post) has an important book from last year: In defence of the human being: Foundational questions of an embodied anthropology. I've mentioned before (see previous post) that his earlier book Ecology of the brain: The phenomenology and biology of the embodied mind was also important. 

I've made a twitter thread of quotes or amended quotes from the new book as I've been reading it. Fuchs counters naturalistic-reductive approaches to human understanding by focusing on the person as embodied and alive. For psychiatry, this naturalistic approach, as Fuchs says, has 
led to a reductionist, 'cerebrocentric' view of mental illness, which does not do justice to the patients' experiences and relationships. ... Such views can be contrasted with an embodied and ecological view of the psyche, which can provide a new foundation for psychiatry as relational medicine [emphasis in original].

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Therapeutic stance in person-centred psychiatry

Laura Galbusera et al (2021) discuss the importance not only of the personal but also of the interpersonal dimension for person-centred psychiatry. It builds on her paper (2019, with Miriam Kyselo). which sees openness and authenticity as the characteristic principles underlying the therapeutic stance, integrating professionalism into a relationship with the patient. As Adolf Meyer said a long time ago, psychiatry needs to accept its inherent uncertainty (see egs. my article and previous post). The self is social and relational, not a single, egocentric entity. As I've said before (eg. see my article), human cognition needs to be understood in a dynamic, integrated, enactive way as it is embodied in the brain and the body more generally, and embedded in the environment, which is social and cultural, affording various possibilities of action to the organism. Such a view is consistent with Engel's biopsychosocial model (see eg. previous post)

The stance a professional takes therapeutically is an expression of their personhood. Relational psychiatry is the application of the person-centred method in psychiatry (see egs. previous post and another). As Galbusera et al say:

according to [Helmuth] Plessner’s concept of 'eccentric positionality' – which for him is a defining feature of personhood – we are positioned both within and without our own being and are hence capable at the same time of experiencing the world from a first-person perspective and of taking the point of view of others (ie. the third-person perspective) toward ourselves. Personhood consequently is a category that unifies the dichotomy of individuality and sociality by mediating our individual being with social norms and expectations and vice versa.

Openness and authenticity are necessary not only within the clinical domain but also at a societal level in the treatment of those with serious mental illness as persons (see eg. another previous post).


(with thanks to tweet by James Barnes @psychgeist52

Friday, November 26, 2021

Power of the placebo antidepressant pill

Sarah Vine describes her history of being prescribed antidepressants and then having withdrawal problems (see Daily Mail article). She explains that antidepressants, in her view, stop the “metaphorical house falling down while you get the metaphorical builders in”. 

Not sure whether the pandemic has really increased antidepressant prescribing (see Lancet Psychiatry letter). The issue about efficacy of antidepressants has not really progressed since NICE produced its first depression guideline (see eletter: What does it mean to say that antidepressants have helped millions of people round the world?). The Critical Psychiatry Network (of which I’m a founding member) had a debate about this issue in 2003 (see another eletter). There is a genuine issue about bias in clinical trials of antidepressants (see yet another eletter). 

All this was looked at in a BMJ editorial in 2004 (see another eletter). The central issue is whether antidepressant trials hide amplified placebo effects and more recent research has not really taken this issue forward (see previous post). Antidepressants may not work any better than placebo. If this is true (which I think it may well be), it would have extraordinary implications for clinical practice. So-called antidepressant efficacy may merely be due to the placebo effect (see eg. my article).

Monday, November 08, 2021

Engaging people in Mental Health Act reform

Reform of the Mental Health Act in England and Wales can learn from reform in other parts of the world, not least Scotland (see previous post) and Italy (see another previous post). I'm also impressed with what the Victoria state government in Australia is doing (see its Mental Health and Wellbeing Act: update and engagement paper). 

The Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System had a vision of a more holistic mental health system, rather than a system that often focuses on a ‘biomedical model’ of treatment and decision making. Treatment, care and support recommendations were about ensuring compulsory treatment is only used as a last resort; moving away from coercive practices; reducing the use of seclusion and restraint with the aim of elimination over a 10-year period; and regulation of chemical restraint (see final report). 

The Victorian Government is doing what I wished the UK government had done in England and Wales (see previous post) by repealing its current Mental Health Act and enacting a new Mental Health and Wellbeing Act. People living with mental illness or psychological distress will be provided with compulsory treatment only as a last resort after all other treatment and non-treatment options have been considered and excluded, and only when needed to prevent serious and imminent harm to themselves or another person (see eg. previous post for comparison of objectives in England and Wales which are much weaker).

There is already a right to a second psychiatric opinion in Victoria and the changes are designed to stop delays by making access to a second opinion more flexible. Reasons for not accepting the opinion of the second psychiatrist will need to be documented and, if necessary, the patient has a right to seek review from the Chief Psychiatrist or to apply to the Mental Health Tribunal for their order to be revoked. I have been arguing for detained patients in England and Wales to have a right to a second opinion, not only on medical but also nursing and social matters (see previous post). This would mean that Second Opinion Approved Doctors could be abolished, as applications can be made about treatment decisions to the Tribunal if needed, and it’s better that the patient is able to choose who provides the second opinion.

Similarly, I think the changes proposed to advocacy in Victoria have helpful implications for reform in England and Wales (see eg. last post). An opt out non-legal advocacy system will be created (see another previous post). Service providers will be required to notify non-legal advocacy services within 24 hours of the making of an order. No restrictions can be placed on the patient’s right to communicate with an advocate. The rights of the advocate to access records and obtain information will also be improved. These matters also need to be taken forward in introducing opt out advocacy in England and Wales.

Although the Independent review in England and Wales was motivated to improve the dignity and respect of detained patients (see previous post) , the Victorian government seems to be dealing with these issues better. It’s not too late to clarify the principles of Mental Health Act reform in England and Wales (see eg. another previous post) with implications for implementation of a new Bill.


(With thanks to Stephen Hinchley at Voiceability for alerting me to the work in Victoria)

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Mental health advocacy is not just about IMHAs

The 2007 amendments to the Mental Health Act (MHA) in England and Wales introduced Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs). As the Code of Practice makes clear, IMHAs may, if appropriate, help detained patients to exercise their rights by assisting patients to access legal advice and supporting patients at Tribunal hearings. I’m not convinced this happens as much as it should, and in practice IMHAs tend to regard legal advice and Tribunals as a separate process. Their role may include helping patients to seek advice from a lawyer, but once this has happened the lawyer is expected to take over responsibilities. IMHAs generally concentrate on helping patients with their care plan and if necessary supporting them in care plan review meetings.

The government plans to improve the quality of IMHA services in its MHA reforms (see eg. previous post). I think one way of improving that quality would be for IMHAs to have more integrated relationships with mental health lawyers and independent experts. A proper advocacy service should be seen as made up of IMHAs, mental health lawyers and independent experts. I think this more complete way of viewing advocacy services is even more important as the government also says it wants to expand Tribunal powers to treatment as well as detention decisions. The Responsible Clinician may be required by the Tribunal to reconsider particular aspects of the care plan and the suggestion is that the IMHA can challenge a specific treatment decision on behalf of a patient that lacks the relevant capacity.

Personally I would prefer if the government created a national mental health advocacy service but I am realistic enough to know that politically this is unlikely to happen. I suspect responsibilities will be left to local authorities to commission mental health advocacy services. What I would like to see is an expectation that commissioners purchase the more complete advocacy service I have been suggesting. Providers will have to build up relationships with mental health lawyers and independent experts, who could continue to be funded through legal aid.

I think implementation work leading to a new MHA Reform Bill should look at the commissioning of more compete advocacy services rather than just IMHAs. As I've said before (eg. see previous post), there seems to me to be considerable work to do before a new Bill is put before parliament. 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Dr Ellie helpfully exposes bias of “standard NHS advice” about antidepressants

Dr Ellie Cannon found it weird that she was criticised for giving what she considers standard NHS advice about antidepressants on the This Morning TV programme (see her Mail on Sunday article). Although I had some concerns about the wording in places, I was one of the signatories to an Open Letter to This Morning about the segment on the programme in which she appeared.

I don’t want to undermine her faith in antidepressants as she takes them herself, but I do think it is important that patients are given correct information to help them make decisions about antidepressants with their doctor. I’m not convinced Dr Ellie understands the criticisms of what she said by labelling them “anti-psychiatry”. Although she may have been trying to dispel myths, she has perpetuated the myth that depression is due to a “chemical imbalance” in the brain (see eg. previous post). She’s not the only doctor that misleads her patients in this way.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Radical reform of Mental Heath Act

Several of the posts on this blog over the last few years have been on reform of the Mental Health Act in England and Wales, following the independent review chaired by Simon Wessely (see previous post) and the consultation by the UK government on a White paper (see another previous post). Scotland is pursuing its own reforms (see previous post). 

Involuntary mental health treatment must be implemented respecting people’s dignity and their civil and political rights. Complete removal of compulsion, if it can be achieved, will have to be progressively realised, and it should be possible to do this so that it is compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Risk in mental health services is not necessarily best managed by increasing coercion (see eg. previous post).

A new Bill is likely to be presented to parliament next year. The government has decided there will not be a draft Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. This may be unfortunate as there is apparently considerable uncertainty about the development of policy proposals (see my summary of White paper and government's response to consultation). I fear the Bill may not even go as far as the White paper if there is not sufficient discussion. For example, it's not clear to me how family interests will be protected if the Nominated Person replacing the Nearest Relative is not a family member. Nor do I think it is necessarily sensible to extend holding powers to Accident and Emergency departments. I have deliberately chosen examples which may have appeared to be simple and uncontroversial to show that as far as I can see multiple issues still need to be resolved. How learning disability and autism may no longer be considered as mental disorders for treatment (see eg. another previous post) would be an example of a more complex unresolved problem.

Particular issues I have been promoting on this blog include:-

  1. Expanding Mental Health Tribunal powers to decisions about treatment as well as detention (see eg. previous post)
  2. Considering a national advocacy service to include Independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs), mental health lawyers and independent experts (see previous post)
  3. Repealing Community Treatment Orders (CTOs) (see eg. previous post)
  4. Abolishing Second Opinion Approved Doctors (SOADs) (see eg. previous post) and
  5. Prohibiting civil detentions (part II cases) to secure facilities (see eg. previous post)

I understand that the government does not want to reopen issues about reform of the Mental Health Act considering the protest caused by what was supposed to have been a root and branch reform of the Act producing a green paper in 1999 that led to the compromise of the 2007 amendments (see eg. letter from my MP at the time). Nonetheless I do think there are fundamental issues about the rights of people with mental health problems that do need proper debate.