What Are Mental Disorders In UK Health Law?
The Code of Practice: Mental Health Act 1983 (2008) outlines the definition of mental disorder under UK health law. Unlike some other countries, the UK has a wide definition of mental disorder, defining it under the Act as “any disorder or disability of mind”. Determining whether or not a person actually has a mental disorder is therefore generally left up to relevant healthcare professionals, who will use accepted standards of the types of disability and disorder in existence and good clinical practice to determine if a patient has a mental disorder.
As there are so many clinically-recognised mental health conditions, it is impossible to write an exhaustive list of all mental disorders considered as such under UK health law. Some of the clinically-recognised health and fitness conditions that are likely to be defined as mental disorders under the Act include:
- Emotional and behavioural disorders involving children and teenagers
- Personality disorders
- Learning disabilities and autism spectrum disorders, although people with these conditions cannot usually be sectioned unless the condition is accompanied by seriously irresponsible or unusually aggressive behaviour
- Depression, bipolar disorder or other affective disorders
- Stress-related, somatoform or neurotic disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, phobic disorders, hypochondriacal disorders, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Dementia, delirium and other organic mental disorders
- Behavioural and mental disorders caused by the use of psychoactive drugs, although dependence on drugs is not considered a mental disorder under the Act and sufferers cannot be detained for addiction alone
- Non-organic sleeping disorders and sexual disorders
- Eating disorders
Compulsory measures for people with mental disorders
Just because someone has a mental disorder, this is not enough to compel them to undertake any compulsory measures outlined in health law, such as detaining them or sectioning them for treatment. A number of specific criteria about the sufferer’s condition and the consequences of their disorder must be met, with certain mental health problems unlikely to ever require compulsory measures.
Furthermore, people with unusual cultural, religious or political beliefs, or people acting in an immoral, illegal or anti-social way, cannot be considered mentally disordered unless there are clinical grounds that provide evidence that this is the case. Even if the person is acting in an unusual way or is causing danger, distress or alarm to other people, actions that do not result from disabilities or disorders of the mind are not grounds to detain that person under the mental health laws. Homosexuality and bisexuality are also not mental disorders in any situation or circumstance; sexual orientation should not be a consideration when determining if a person has a mental disorder.
While sectioning or detaining someone, or obliging them to undertake other ‘compulsory measures’, should be a last-case option when other treatments and strategies have failed, or when detaining them is vital for their own health and safety or the safety of others, compulsory measures can be necessary in some situations. There are strict criteria that must be followed in these instances.
Hellen works alongside a team of solicitors in Burnley to advise and assist them in matters relating to health law and accident at work compensation. She comes from a family of mental health professionals and the subject of mental healthcare is very close to his heart.