Mental Health Legislation Over Time

Key Terms

  1. Act - An Act is a Bill that has been approved by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and been given Royal Assent by the Monarch.
  2. Royal Assent - This is when the Queen formally agrees to make the bill into an Act of Parliament.

What does the law say about Mental Illness?

Mental health legislation dates back to the 1774 Madhouses Act. This Act was implemented to regulate "madhouses" or "insane asylums". Clearly, as the titles suggest, very little was known about mental health problems and there was certainly no support for those who were suffering at the 

Thankfully, the stigma against mental health in the UK has been falling ever since the government 1959 Mental Health Act whereby ‘mental disorder’ was defined for the first time. From then onward, a huge amount of legislation has been implemented to both define and to protect the rights of those who suffer from mental health problems.

A summary of the core legislative Acts from 1959 until the present can be found here, along with some of the key introductions and initiatives that have been set out by the government.

1959 Mental Health Act

  • Since 1959, the government has been defining mental health disorders in accordance with scientific research and subsequently, giving rights and support to those who suffer from mental health difficulties.

  • The Act repealed the Lunacy and Mental Treatment Acts 1890 to 1930 and the Mental Deficiency Acts 1913 to 1938. One of the changes introduced by the Act was the abolition of the category of "moral imbecile".

1983 Mental Health Act 

  • This Act was introduced after the 1959 Mental Health Act was repealed. The 1983 Mental Health Act currently applies in the UK although it has been amended significantly since its introduction. 

  • The Mental Health Act 1983 is the law under which a person can be admitted, detained and treated in hospital against their wishes. It applies to people who are assessed as having a 'mental disorder'.

  • The mental health charity Rethink provides guidance on procedures and the rights of patients detained under the Mental Health Act.

2005 Mental Capacity Act

  • The Mental Capacity Act protects those who lack the mental capacity to make their own decisions about day-to-day tasks but also about life-changing decisions.

  • The Act allows individuals to express their preferences for care, and to appoint a trusted person to make decisions on their behalf should they lack capacity in the future.

2007 Mental Health Amendment Act

  • Amendments to the 1983 Act is designed to give health professionals power to detain, assess and treat people with mental disorders in the interests of their health and safety or for public safety.

  • The legislation also provides safeguards for patients to ensure they are not inappropriately treated under the provisions of the Act. In 2007-08 in England 47,600 people were detained under the Act (41 per cent following voluntary admissions).

  • This amendment also included provisions for aftercare for sectioned people and community treatment.

2014 Care Act

  • The Care Act aims to increase well-being of those in need of care and support services. It also aims to bring about the personalisation of care services, putting the individual at the centre of the process.

  • Under the Act, local authorities must provide information and advice about care to help people understand how these services work locally, the care and funding options available, and how people can access care and support services.

2017 October - Review of Mental Health Act 1983

  • The Government reviewed the Mental Health Act 1983 in response to concerns about rising rates of detention and the disproportionate use of the Act among people from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.

2018 December - Modernising the Mental Health Act

  • The final report was published in December. The Government has already implemented some of the recommendations in the review and plans to employ more.

  • Seni’s Law received royal assent. The Bill was proposed by Steve Reed - MP for Croydon North - following the devastating death of his constituent Seni Lewis in 2010. He died at just 23, after being restrained at a mental health ward by 11 police officers. Seni’s family have campaigned to change the law around the use of force, and thousands of Mind campaigners urged their MPs to get behind the Bill. Now finally all their hard work has paid off.

2019 January - NHS Long Term Plan

  • As part of the government’s five-year NHS funding plan, the largest, longest funding settlement in the history of the NHS, Mental health services will receive an extra £2.3 billion, with a particular focus on children's and young people's mental health, giving 345,000 more children mental health support and giving more adults access to talking therapies.
  • The NHS Long Term Plan (7 January 2019) provided commitments such as an additional 380,000 people per year with access to adult psychological therapies by 2023/24.
  • It stated, by 2023/24, the NHS 111 service would act as a single point of contact for NHS services for people experiencing mental health crisis.

  • The Plan committed to the introduction of new services intended to support patients going through a mental health crisis.

2019 June - Prime Ministerial Pledges

  • Within the latter stages of Theresa May's time as Prime Minister, a summary of the measures and actions that had been created or developed during her time at Number 10 was released. The new initiatives that are not addressed in the paragraphs above are listed below.
  • Training for all new teachers on how to spot the signs of mental health issues, backed up by updated statutory guidance to make clear schools’ responsibilities to protect children’s mental well-being.
  • Providing access to world-class teaching and training materials for all teachers to use in classrooms to meet the new requirements for mental health education for all primary and secondary pupils.
  • Encouraging all 1.2 million NHS staff to take suicide prevention training from the Zero Suicide Alliance. This coincides with a pledge for extra funding for a support programme that will help local authorities to strengthen and deliver local suicide prevention plans so that they better meet the needs of the people they serve.
  • Updating professional standards for social workers across England to increase their knowledge and skills when helping those with mental health issues. This would also include modernising the support given to new parents from health visitors and other professionals to better support their babies’ behavioural and emotional development.
  • Creating a £1 million competition, run by the Office for Students, to find innovative new ways to support mental health at universities and colleges.
  • The launch of a new breathing space scheme to provide respite from debt collection while people seek support to help prevent the onset of mental health problems – with special access for those receiving crisis treatment.