Autistic people should not be included in Mental Health Act

18
616

by a Newsnet reporter

On World Mental Health Day, and at the start of Scottish Mental Health Week, a leading organisation, Autism Rights, campaigning for the rights of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Rights is calling for revision and amendment of the Mental Health Act to take people with learning disabilities and Autistic Spectrum Disorders out of this Act.  At the moment, people with learning disabilities are specifically included in this Act under the the definition of `mental disorder`.  People with autism are also included in this definition.

by a Newsnet reporter

On World Mental Health Day, and at the start of Scottish Mental Health Week, a leading organisation,  Autism Rights, campaigning for the rights of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Rights is calling for revision and amendment of the Mental Health Act to take people with learning disabilities and Autistic Spectrum Disorders out of this Act.  At the moment, people with learning disabilities are specifically included in this Act under the the definition of `mental disorder`.  People with autism are also included in this definition.

Health professionals agree that a learning disability is quite different from a mental illness.  People with learning difficulties are not mentally ill.  Services targetted at people with mental illness are not always appropriate for people with learning disabilities.  However autism and related disorders, nowadays called Autistic Spectrum Disorders, have historically been lumped in together with mental illness, a relic of older medical science which – incorrectly – classed autism as “childhood schizophrenia”.  It is now understood that autism is quite distinct from this mental ilness.

Both the Millan Committee of 2001, which was set up by the first Scottish Executive to review the then Mental Health Act, and the 2009 McManus Review of the current Mental Health Act, recommended that people with learning disabilities be taken out of the Mental Health Act.  In spite of the agreement by the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee that this measure was long overdue, nothing has happened.  There is currently a Scottish Government consultation on a Review of Mental Health Strategy which makes no mention of this recommendation.

Autism Rights is now taking a lead in calling for the end to this historical anomaly.  Its Convener Fiona Sinclair said: “The experience of families of adults with autism is that this discriminatory law directly impacts upon the services that they might receive.  While local authorities and health services can continue to avoid the provision of appropriate services, because of an absence of standards, they can always blame the person with the disability when they are no longer able to cope with this, knowing that they have the power to incarcerate that person or enforce medication under the Mental Health Act.”

A Frontline Scotland BBC TV programme was made about the issue of incarceration of autistic adults within mental hospitals.  Fife Health Board took out an interdict to prevent its screening.  One of the autistic adults in this programme has been held for more than 11 years in a mental institution in Fife.  The programme has never been screened.

A number of years ago, several parents met with Frank McAveety, then Depute Minister for Health, to give evidence of the abuse of their adult children within the mental health system.  Nothing has been done since that time to investigate the extent of this problem, or to remedy the absence of autism specific training within the mental health system, which frequently leads to misdiagnosis and wholly inappropriate treatment, with a complete absence of therapeutic input.

Mrs Sincliar added: “We know that other organisations have previously called for this discrimination to end, as we have ourselves.  We will be contacting these and other organisations to ask for their support.  The current consultation on a Mental Health Strategy offers a golden opportunity, which will not arise again in the near future, to ask the Scottish Government to put in place the necessary amendments to the Mental Health Act.

“With the implementation of legislation such as the Adults with Incapacity Act, there is no legal or practical need to continue to discriminate against people with disabilities.”

Autism Rights was established to research, lobby and campaign for the human rights of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in Scotland, in particular to campaign for the provision of appropriate health treatment, education, social welfare and justice.   More information is on their website at www.autismrights.org.uk