Calls to defend rights of mental health patients amid reports of 'traumatic' treatment experiences

MSPs and former patients have called for a “rights-based” approach to mental health care in Scotland, amid reports of “traumatic” experiences and a rise in detentions and compulsory treatment under the Mental Health Act.
Harry McGregorHarry McGregor
Harry McGregor

In the final report of a two-year inquiry into the Scottish Government’s mental health strategy, the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group (CPG) on Mental Health found that people with mental health problems are still at a higher risk of being denied their rights.

One former patient from East Lothian, Harry McGregor, 29, who was sectioned with Bipolar disorder under the Mental Health Act in 2016, described aspects of his treatment as “traumatic”.

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He called for a more “rights-based” approach and more resources for mental health treatment, including private rooms for patients and more extracurricular activities.

Mr McGregor was at first housed in a ward with other patients with different conditions, which he found difficult to cope with as he witnessed distressing incidents involving other patients.

"I will never be able to unsee the things I saw and experienced,” he said.

After attempting to leave the hospital several times, he was moved to an Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit (IPCU), where he had his own room, there were more staff on hand, and he could take part in more extracurricular activities.

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Mr McGregor said he would like to see more resources made available to future patients.

“Every patient deserves their equal rights, but it has to be tailored to their illness and situation,” he said.

"It’s about equality of rights and how important extracurricular activities are in such horrible conditions.”

The CPG report raises issues in mental health wards including lack of privacy, exclusion from therapeutic activities, low staff numbers and problems with communication between patients, their families and staff.

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It also notes people with mental health problems continue to have the lowest employment rate of all people with disabilities in Scotland – with some describing incidents of being rejected before a job interview, having disclosed mental health problems.

Compulsory treatment is on the rise, with 6,038 episodes of compulsory treatment recorded by the Mental Welfare Commission in 2018/19, the highest number since the implementation of the Mental Health Act.

Between March and August 2020 there was an increase of 333 detentions (seven per cent) compared to the same period in 2019.

Emma Harper MSP, co-convenor of the CPG, said: “Throughout our work to put this report together, it became very clear that a human rights-based approach is absolutely essential to mental health policy.

"This means giving people greater opportunities to participate in shaping the decisions that directly affect them and we welcome that this is the approach the Scottish Government aims to take.

“We need much more focus on how people with mental ill-health can realise their rights while they are unwell, both when they are in hospital and when they are living in the community.

"We all have mental health and we all have human rights and, as such, we need to ensure our policies enable people to realise their rights no matter their circumstances.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.

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