Scotland now has highest ever detentions for mental illness

Monica Lennon commented on the 'crisis'.
Monica Lennon commented on the 'crisis'.
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Scotland now has its highest ever number of detentions for mental illness, with young people accounting for the steepest rise, according to a new report.

Ministers are being urged to investigate after figures from the Mental Welfare Commission show the detention rate has risen most sharply among 16 and 17-year-olds since 2009-10, from under 20 per 100,000 of the population to more than 60.

It is concerned about variations in detention across health boards, including in gaining the necessary consent from a mental health officer – described as an “important safeguard for the individual”.

The number of women aged under 25 in short-term detention has more than doubled between 2009-10 and 2018-19, up 122.5 per cent to 316, according to Mental Welfare Commission statistics. For men in the same age range, this has risen 44.6 per cent to 321.

Overall, there were 6,038 new episodes of compulsory treatment under the Mental Health Act in Scotland in 2018-19, the highest since the legislation came into force in 2003.

Across Scotland half of those subject to an emergency detention certificate in 2018-19 did not have such consent.

This ranged from 83 per cent in NHS Dumfries and Galloway to 33 per cent in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

The Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board continues to treat more people per rate of population than any other area using both emergency and short-term detention.

This has been an ongoing feature for 10 years.

Scottish Labour health spokeswoman Monica Lennon said: “The rise in the use of forced detentions for young people with mental health problems is extremely concerning. We know these interventions are sometimes necessary but these should only be used as a last resort.

“The Scottish Government must investigate why this is happening and if the rise in detentions is linked to the failure of young people to access routine mental health treatment through the NHS.”

The commission’s interim executive medical director Dr Moira Connolly said: “The rise in numbers of times detention is used in relation to young people is concerning.

“We already know of the increased number of children and young people seeking help for mental health issues but we need to understand more about whether those pressures are now being reflected in our data regarding compulsory hospital treatment.”

Dr Connolly said she hoped this issue and others will be considered by the government in its reform of Scotland’s Mental Health Act.

She added: “Compulsory treatment can, of course, be essential for the assessment and treatment of a person who is very unwell but it does restrict an individual’s rights, and must always be used with careful consideration.”

There are three forms of detention. Emergency detention certificates are used for crisis care and last up to 72 hours. Short-term detention certificates last up to 28 days and compulsory treatment orders can last initially up to six months.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Mental health is a priority for this government and that is why we are spending £250 million over five years to improve mental health services for children, young people and adults and ensure support for good mental health is embedded across our public services.

“Prevention and early intervention are key focus areas and we will put in place 350 additional school councillors and 250 school nurses by 2022 to support young people. We have also expanded the Distress Brief Intervention programme pilots this year to include 18-year-olds.

“Any increase in compulsory treatment may represent the effects of more people coming forward for treatment and an increased awareness of mental ill health.

“It’s also important to note that the majority of people subject to compulsory treatment are on short-term orders rather than long-term.

“Our mental health law is based on rights and principles, and offers protection for patients where compulsory treatment is necessary.”