Understanding the Changing Patterns of Behaviour Leading to Increased Detentions by the Police under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 [2018]

The number of detentions by the police under section 136 of the Mental Health Act has significantly increased over recent years. Over the same period, relative funding of mental health services has declined. The implication is that the latter has in some way caused the former. In this study, the behaviours of people resulting in their detention are examined, as are the motivations of the officers detaining them.

Over the last 30 years, behaviours leading to detention have changed significantly. They were overwhelmingly violent, abusive, aggressive, or delusional but now they overwhelmingly relate to self-harm. Treatment rates following detention 30 years ago were over 90% but now this has fallen to around 20%. The lowest treatment rates 30 years ago were for detentions for threats of self-harm and this remains so now.

There has also been the emergence of a ‘risk-averse’ culture in policing, fearful of ‘deaths in police contact’, which may have significantly contributed to this increase in detentions. This has resulted in the creation of a new ‘patient pathway’ which gives priority access, through the police, to otherwise difficult to access mental health services.

Restricting this pathway explains how ‘street triage’ schemes reduce detentions. Where the officer is advised by a Health professional not to detain a person, they are then indemnified for any subsequent outcomes. In the absence of such advice, officers feel they have no choice but to detain, where there are threats of self-harm.

Allyn Thomas, Rachel Forrester-Jones
Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice, Volume 13, Issue 2, June 2019