Call for end to inappropriate detention of autistic people in mental health hospitals

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An autistic campaigner from Kent handed a petition with 217,828 signatures into number 10 Downing Street.

The petition, which was launched jointly with the National Autistic Society ( NAS), calls on the Government to end the scandal of autistic people being inappropriately detained in mental health hospitals.

Alexis Quinn (pictured – second from left) was detained under the Mental Health Act in 2012 and then spent almost three-and-a-half years in different mental health hospitals. She was restrained over 90 times, and, on one occasion was held in solitary confinement for eight days.

The NAS says Alexis isn’t alone. The charity said, that despite repeated promises from the government to reduce how many autistic people are held in mental health hospitals, the numbers reported are rising.

The charity also said it continues to hear disturbing stories of people being detained for long periods of time, miles away from their family – and in some disturbing cases restrained, overmedicated and held in solitary confinement.

Both Alexis and the National Autistic Society are calling on the Government to review the definition of autism in the Mental Health Act urgently and to develop the right community services in every area of the country.

One of the reasons so many autistic people end up detained in mental health hospitals is that autism is defined as a ‘mental disorder’ in the Mental Health Act 1983, despite autism not being a mental health condition. Another is that the country doesn’t have the right services to support autistic people in their own homes.

Alexis, who wrote the memoir Unbroken, said: Thank you to everyone who has signed our joint petition.

“My time in inpatient care cost the state approximately £2.5 million. In reality, my mental health problems could have been treated at home if I was given the right specialist support. I would also have had my family and friends close by. This would have cost a fraction of this amount.

“Instead I was locked up, shut off from my family, leaving my baby daughter with no mother for months. I needed help – I asked for help – and it never happened. Instead, I was overmedicated, secluded and restrained over 90 times.

“The time has come for reports and investigations to end. No more empty promises. No more warm words. I call upon the new Government to end the abuse and mistreatment of autistic people and people with a learning disability in inpatient units.”

Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society, said: “Our country’s new Prime Minister has inherited the national scandal of autistic people being inappropriately detained under the Mental Health Act – often far from their families and for years on end.

“Despite repeated promises from different governments, the number of autistic people reported in mental health hospitals has continued to rise. And we continue to hear disturbing stories of people being detained for long periods of time, miles away from their family – and even restrained, overmedicated and kept in isolation.

“Alongside Alexis and over 200,000 other people, we’re demanding decisive action.

“Our new Prime Minister needs to lead us out of this mess. First the Government must commit money to develop the right community services so fewer autistic people get stuck in institutions. Second it must review the Mental Health Act’s definition of autism as a ‘mental disorder’ so autistic people aren’t wrongly sectioned.

“We need our new Prime Minister to end this scandal for good.”

Picture (From left to right): Anna Bailey-Bearfield, Policy & Public Affairs Manager at the National Autistic Society; Alexis Quinn; Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society; David MacKenzie, Senior Public Affairs Officer at the National Autistic Society. (c) National Autistic Society.