The detention rate under the Mental Health Act is four times higher for Black people in England than white people, new figures have revealed.
Data published by the NHS on Tuesday showed that in 2019/20, there was the equivalent of 321.7 detentions per 100,000 Black people under the Act.
For white people, this figure was just 73.4 per 100,000.
Geoff Heyes, head of health policy at the mental health charity Mind, condemned the disparity as “simply unacceptable”.
“People tell us being sectioned under the Act is often terrifying and traumatic,” he said.
“When you are at your most vulnerable your freedom is taken away and you lose control over your life. Rather than being treated with care and compassion, people – especially Black people – who are seriously unwell are often stereotyped as dangerous, forcibly medicated and locked up.”
The statistics published on Tuesday reveal there has been little change to the disparity year-on-year.
In 2018/19, there were 306.8 detentions per 100,000 for Black people and 72.9 per 100,000 for white people.
The Rethink Mental Illness charity – along with the Royal College of Psychiatrists – has warned that the government must act on the recommendations it was given about the Mental Health Act almost two years ago “as a matter of urgency”.
In 2018, an independent review said that community care should be improved as a way of reducing the number of people who need to be detained.
It also called for patients to be allowed to chose a family member of friend to help make decisions about their care.
But campaigners and charities say they are still waiting on the government to respond to the review.
“The Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, published back in 2018, acknowledged the role that bias and racism play within the system,” said Will Johnstone, policy manager at Rethink Mental Illness.
“The review proposed important changes to deliver greater equality and accountability for ethnic minority communities in detention settings, and while there’s been some encouraging progress we are still waiting for the government to respond to that review.”
But Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said that simply changing the legislation is not enough.
“We must see an end to people being detained because they can’t get the right help before they’re in crisis,” he said.
“That means tackling broader inequalities, exclusion and stigma. We must develop culturally sensitive services designed around the needs of communities so that everyone is able to access them.”
His comments come on the same day that a review by Baroness Doreen Lawrence into the Covid-19 outbreak concluded that BAME communities had been disproportionately affected by the pandemic as a result of “decades of structural injustice, inequality and discrimination”.
Overall, the data published on Tuesday revealed that there were 50,893 new detentions under the Mental Health Act in 2019/20 – though incomplete data means the real figure is likely to be higher.
Detention rates were slightly higher for men (91.8 per 100,000) than for women (84.4 per 100,000), while detention rates were also greater among younger people.
There were 129.8 detentions per 100,000 of the population for people aged 18 to 34, compared to 92.5 per 100,000 for those aged 50 to 64 and 95.0 per 100,000 for the over 65 age group.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We know people from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds are disproportionately detained under the Mental Health Act, which is why we are taking steps to reduce these figures as part of our reform of the Act – ensuring everyone is treated with dignity and respect, no matter their background.
“As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, we’re investing £2.3 billion a year by 2023/24 to transform mental health care and remain committed to publishing a White Paper which will set out the government’s response to Sir Simon Wessely’s Independent Review of the Mental Health Act 1983 and pave the way for reform of the Act at the earliest opportunity.”