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In brief: Proposed reforms to 'outdated' Mental Health Act shelved

A photograph of the UK Houses of Parliament

News round-up by Conor D'Andrade

Government abandons Mental Health Act reforms

The UK government has confirmed that there will be no reform of the Mental Health Act 1983 before the next election.

The recent King's Speech, outlining the government's legislative program, did not include a mental health bill.

This decision marks the conclusion of a six-year project to overhaul the Mental Health Act, starting with the 2017/18 Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, followed by the 2022 draft Mental Health Bill.

Mental health campaigners and health professionals have criticised the government's move, noting that it goes against the 2019 Conservative manifesto pledge to improve mental health treatment and patient control over their care.

A summary of the changes to mental health care the proposed legislation would have made can be seen here.

Psychiatrist and chair of the independent review, said:

“The old act had gotten very out of date – there are lots of Victorian bits to it – and it clearly was not allowing people to make choices. There was a really worrying excess of people from Black African and Caribbean communities being detained under the act and people were being detained for too long. That all needs to be addressed.

“The fact that there are still people with autism detained under the act isn’t of itself necessarily wrong but there’s evidence that they are being detained for too long and without therapeutic service.”

Children from poorer areas less likely to receive required mental health support

A study of over 11,000 Year 13 students has concluded young people in the most deprived areas of the UK are less likely to receive the mental health support they need compared with their peers.

Cosmo (Covid Social Mobility and Opportunities) study, which was conducted by the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, the UCL Centre for Longitudinal Studies, and the Sutton Trust, carried out surveys between October 2022 and February 2023.

The report found that a quarter of Year 13 students sought mental health support over the past year, but many struggled to access services. Over a third of those who sought help reported that they had not received it or were on a waiting list.

Additionally, nearly two in five young people in the poorest parts of England reported waiting or not receiving the support they applied for, compared with 28% in the most affluent areas.

The study also found that those identifying as non-binary+ were found to be more likely to be classified as having high psychological distress (74%) compared with females (56%) and males (32%).

Non-binary+ young people (67%) were also more likely to report seeking support for their mental health than females (33%) and males (15%).

The researchers called for sustainable and well-funded support for young people experiencing mental health issues, with a focus on improving services in the most deprived areas. They also recommended that schools develop more tailored support for non-binary and LGBTQ+ students.

Scotland to review mental health nursing across the nation

The Scottish Government has announced plans to commission a review into mental health nursing in the country as part of its new Mental Health and Wellbeing Workforce Action Plan.

The review aims to explore ways to attract, grow, support, and develop the mental health nursing workforce, alongside seeking to address challenges such as high vacancy levels, retention issues, and training concerns within the mental health and well-being workforce.

The Scottish Government will review the action plan after 18 months and update it in 2025, as well as providing additional support through the establishment of a ministerial Nursing and Midwifery Taskforce, which will be designed to tackle significant challenges within the nursing workforce in Scotland and enhance working conditions for employees.

Mr Men and Little Miss books to help teach children about mental health

Mr Men and Little Miss books have introduced a series called Discover You to facilitate open conversations about mental health and well-being between adults and children.

While research indicates that almost half of UK adults find it challenging to discuss mental health and emotions with confidence, 86% also believe that reading with children establishes a secure environment for such discussions.

The initiative involves collaboration with the children's clinical psychologist Dr Elizabeth Kilbey, who provides insights on managing children's mental health and encouraging conversations about emotions and wellbeing.

Dr Kilbey said:

"Read together! The Mr Men and Little Miss series have released new books as part of their Discover You series, which is unique in that the stories are specifically developed to explore emotions and emotional language in a fun and engaging way.

"At the end of each page, ask children about the characters and how they were feeling. You can ask them if they have ever felt the same and encourage them to discuss times when they have felt like this. You can also tell them about when you have felt the same as the characters."

Predictive brain imaging-based biomarkers of mental illness in adolescents identified by researchers

A recent study has utilised a large dataset to identify brain imaging-based biomarkers in adolescents that could predict mental illness.

The research used brain imaging data from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study, which included nearly 12,000 children aged 9 to 10 at the start of the study.

The study identified a brain connectivity variate using the fMRI dataset that showed positive correlations with cognitive functions and negative correlations with psychopathological measures.

This brain-based variate was found to predict the number of psychiatric disorders identified in participants at the time of the scan and over the following two years, as well as the transition of diagnosis across disorders during the two-year follow-up period.

Senior Author, Dr Yihong Yang, said:

“Finding biomarkers of mental illnesses, rather than relying on symptoms, may provide a more precise means of diagnosis, and thereby aligning psychiatric diagnosis with other medical diagnoses.”


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