Public mental health crisis management and Section 136 of the Mental Health Act

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The interface between mental health services and the criminal justice system presents challenges both for professionals and patients. Both systems are stressed and inherently complex. Section 136 of the Mental Health Act is unusual being both an aspect of the Mental Health Act and a power of arrest. It has a long and controversial history related to concerns about who has been detained and how the section was applied. More recently, Section 136 has had a public profile stemming from the use of police cells as places of safety for young, mentally disturbed individuals. This paper explores the current state of health of this piece of legislation. Specifically, we consider whether alternative approaches are more suitable for those individuals in crisis and/or distress who come into contact with the police. This requires careful thought as to the proper role of both health and criminal justice professionals who are daily grappling with an ethically contentious domain of multiagency work.

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