Last week, the government published proposals for a number of changes to the Mental Health Act in England and Wales, which are likely to result in fewer individuals with autism being admitted to mental health hospitals. While the National Autistic Society hails the news as a huge step forward for autistic peoples and their rights, Axia ASD’s Dr Linda Buchan and Beth Robertson, although equally thrilled, have said that the breakthrough has been years in the making and must be followed through with more action.
Chester-based Axia ASD provides diagnostic and post-diagnostic services for those with neurodiversity and were recognised for their work by being handed the prestigious National Autistic Society Award for Outstanding Health Services in March 2018. Sharing their thoughts on the news of the government’s planned changes to the Mental Health Act, director Dr Buchan and campaigns manager Beth Robertson said in a joint statement that the change was the culmination of years of campaigning.
The two women said: “For years, we have been campaigning to change the law on mental health in England and Wales. At the moment, the law allows people to be sectioned because they are autistic – even though autism isn’t a mental health health problem. This had led to autistic people being locked up and mistreated in inpatient units.”
Alexis Quinn was an individual with autism who was detained under the Mental Health Act and spent several years in psychiatric hospitals, where she was mistreated by being drugged, restrained and secluded. Left in shock by Alexis’ circumstances, Dr Buchan and Robertson said that Axia ASD decided they would work with her on a campaign to change the law.
The statement elaborates: “We worked with Alexis to launch a petition which over 200,000 people signed. Together, we took it to Downing Street and the government agreed to review the Mental Health Act.”
The proposed changes to the law have come as a direct result of the very review forced by the petition, which Dr Buchan said have been years in the making.
“On Wednesday [January 13], the government published their proposals to change this law, which should result in fewer autistic people being unfairly sectioned. This is a huge step forward and we are so grateful to our campaigners for sticking with us over the years.”
Although the changes to the Mental Health Act will come as a watershed moment for individuals with autism, Dr Buchan warns that the mental health crisis is far from over and the latest leap forward must be followed up with further investment in mental health and social care services.
“This change won’t just end the mental health crisis for autistic people. We still need more investment in mental health and social care services. However, we know that together we can achieve real change and we are committed to continuing to campaign.”
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