Mental Health Act In Social Services

Social services play an important role in the Mental Health Act. Under the Mental Health Act, approved social workers (ASW) can make social evaluation of mental health crises, and decide whether compulsory admission and treatment of a person is required or not. Thus, social services or workers add a new social perspective to the processes and outcomes of statutory mental health intervention. The primary concerns of approved social workers involve the social context of mental health need, available social resources, civil liberties, safety measures for people subject to statutory mental health interventions and the effective regulation of practice and services.

People having mental health problems are classified into two categories: ‘informal' and ‘formal.' Informal patients are treated in the community or in a hospital on a voluntary basis and possess the same rights as anyone else. On the other hand, mental health patients who are compulsorily detained under a section of the Mental Health Act have different rights and are called ‘formal' patients. To be assessed for compulsory admission under the Mental Health Act, the person must firstly be suffering from a mental disorder. According to the Act, it means ‘mental illness, arrested or incomplete development of mind, psychopathic disorder and any other disorder or disability of mind'.

Under Sections 2 and 3 of the Mental Health Act, a person can be detained for a period of up to 28 days and six months respectively. Under Section 2, the grounds for detention are that the person is ‘suffering from mental disorder of a nature or degree which warrants the detention of the patient in a hospital for assessment (or for assessment followed by medical treatment) for at least a limited period; and he ought to be so detained in the interests of his own health or safety, or with a view to the protection of other persons'.

The grounds under Section 3 are that the patient is ‘suffering from mental illness, severe mental impairment, psychopathic disorder or mental impairment and his mental disorder is of a nature which makes it appropriate to receive medical treatment in hospital' and ‘in the case of psychopathic disorder or mental impairment, such treatment is likely to alleviate or prevent a deterioration of his condition' and ‘it is necessary for the health or safety of the patient or for the protection of other persons, that he should receive such treatment and it cannot be provided unless he is under this section'.

With both these sections, an approved social worker can make an application. This application has to be supported by the recommendations of two registered medical practitioners. Moreover, under Section 3 the ASW is required to consult the ‘nearest relative'. The application cannot proceed if the nearest relative expresses his/her disapproval, although a court can overrule a nearest relative whose objections are found to be unreasonable. The nearest relative of a person affected by a mental health problem has the right to ask an approved social worker to assess his/her relative for compulsory admission to psychiatric hospital.

Mental health social workers can help people having mental disorders in different ways. These include assessment of need including assessment under the Mental Health Act in respect of need for care or treatment, advice, help in resolving practical, social and emotional problems, support to enable people to live as independently as possible, identification of and referral on to other appropriate services, support and advice for caregivers and others who are affected by another person's mental problems.