Women and girls detained under the Mental Health Act are taking their lives at “appalling” rates, according to a report from Agenda, the alliance for women and girls at risk.
New figures, obtained by Agenda from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), show that women’s self-inflicted deaths overtook men’s for the first time in 2015 and did so again in 2016.
Meanwhile, the number of deaths of females under 20, including one girl under 17, was more than double the number of males in that age range.
Katharine Sacks-Jones, Chief Executive of Agenda, said: “It is appalling that we are seeing so many self-inflicted deaths of women and girls detained under the Mental Health Act.
“Many will have been detained precisely because they were at risk to themselves, yet the Mental Health Act is not keeping them safe and is failing to support and protect them.”
The findings, based on data obtained from the Care Quality Commission on self-inflicted deaths of people detained under the Mental Health Act, show that:
- Women’s self-inflicted deaths outnumbered men for the first time in 2015, when 20 women died compared to 15 men.
- In 2016, the most recent record available, 10 women died compared to six men.
- Nine young women and girls aged under 20 died between 2010 and 2016, compared to four young men in the same period.
- Of those, one was a girl aged under 17. No boys under 17 died across the seven-year period.
Agenda is calling for more investment in both community and in-patient mental health services so that women and girls are not having to hit crisis point before accessing support.
It also wants both the Mental Health Act and mental health services to take into account women and girls’ needs and experiences, particularly their histories of abuse.
Ms Sacks-Jones adds: “The reality is that the conditions under which the Mental Health Act are enforced are not fit for purpose for women and girls.
“The majority of women and girls detained will have experienced violence and abuse. But the evidence suggests this is not understood or responded to appropriately, particularly when they are detained.
“This sees women who have been abused by men being observed by male nurses, having abusers as their ‘nearest relative’ and being restrained in ways that can re-traumatise them. They are also separated from their children and family, heaping trauma upon trauma.
“It can be no coincidence that this is the context in which so many women and girls are dying.
“We want to see women and girls’ specific experiences – including of motherhood, and of trauma and abuse – understood and integrated into all levels of their care, including and especially when they are in crisis.
“It is crucial that detention under the Mental Health Act becomes an opportunity for women and girls to rebuild their lives and have a positive future rather than them feeling like they have no future at all.”
Agenda’s research is released as the independent Mental Health Act Review, chaired by Professor Sir Simon Wessely, prepares its final report, due in the autumn.
Read the full report, Women in Crisis: How women and girls are being failed by the Mental Health Act.
About the data:
This data was obtained from the Care Quality Commission and relates to patients detained under the Mental Health Act. Please note the data provided by the CQC can be used in accordance with the Open Government Licence for Public Sector Information by acknowledging CQC as the data source. CQC does not however hold any responsibility for subsequent analysis done from raw data provided as this is seen as creating new information; CQC should not be quoted as the source of the analysis and/or interpretation of transformed data.