A place of safety

In England and Wales, care for people with mental health problems is overseen (in large part) by the Mental Health Act (2007).1 The Act refers to a 'place of safety' - a legal term that has been in use in the UK for many years. Two sections of the Act give police officers power to move a person whom they believe to have a mental health problem to a 'place of safety'. Interestingly (in the light of arguments I shall make below), if the person in question is not in a 'public place', the police officers must obtain a warrant (issued by a magistrate - a UK term referring to a form of junior judge) before taking this course of action. Detailed advice to police officers, issued by the UK Home Office, makes it clear that 'places of safety' would normally be considered to be hospitals, other medical facilities, residential care homes or the home of a relative or friend. It is common, however for people who are thought to be under the influence of alcohol or recreational drugs, rather than suffering from a mental health problem, to be taken into police custody.

So, then, if we were in crisis, what would we consider to be a 'place of safety'? What would we want in such circumstances? Perhaps, let's be clear about what isn't needed. People in acute distress are not 'ill' and do not need to be in 'hospital'. I am aware that this is a challenging thing to say. But I mean precisely what I say. As I made clear in Chapters 2 and 3, 'illness' and 'diagnosis' are inappropriate metaphors for understanding emotional distress. When problems are serious or acute, people can certainly need help, and occasionally medication can be useful. But they aren't 'ill' and there is no good reason to suppose that a 'hospital' is the most appropriate place of safety. Instead, people deserve to be offered a high quality, welcoming, supportive and calm environment in which to recover and receive the help they need.

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