What is Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 (England and Wales)?
Section 136 deals with the removal of mentally disordered persons, without a warrant, if a police constable thinks it is necessary in the interests of their own safety or that of others. The increase in cases prompted growing scrutiny. Research piloted by Professor Gillian Bendelow had already broached the possibility that, outside London and other large conurbations, Section 136 had long been the default response for police to manage highly distressed members of the public when no other services were available. Gillian Bendelow, together with Dr Claire Warrington, investigated current practice to challenge simplistic perceptions with observations that gave prominence to the lived experience of those who had previously been detained. Interviews and analyses revealed that in one year 80 per cent of all Section 136 detentions across Sussex took place 'out of hours' and appeared to be a compassionate means of suicide prevention in the face of no available alternative.
Reinforcing this finding, 81 per cent of those detained were deemed by police to pose an immediate risk to self through suicide or severe self-harm and many interviewed in the study had sought help from other sources before the incident, while 30 per cent of incidents were individuals being detained repeatedly. Individuals detained repeatedly described being disenfranchised from mental health services, often having a diagnosis of personality disorder and many disclosing histories of trauma, such as sexual abuse. Some individuals felt that the police were the only people who saw them as ‘human beings’ and who responded to their distress, praising officers’ compassion as opposed to being treated as a diagnosis or ‘nuisance’. The research also highlighted the use of alcohol being one the biggest barriers to receiving help before escalating to crisis as many safety suites would not take those under influence of alcohol.