Objective: The frequency of compulsory admission varies widely across Europe. Although there has been some research on a nation-wide level, no work has been done to compare mental health legislation in different countries in relation to detention rates and to patients' perception of hospital detention.
Method: Databases and government statistics were searched for regional, national and European data. Legal frameworks were compared and reviewed in relation to patients' and professionals' views.
Results: Nearly 20-fold variations in detention rates were found in different parts of Europe. Criteria for detention of the mentally ill are broadly similar when it comes to patients at risk to themselves or others. However different rules apply for involuntary treatment in the interest of the patient's health.
Conclusion: Variations in detention rates across Europe appear to be influenced by professionals' ethics and attitudes, sociodemographic variables, the public's preoccupation about risk arising from mental illness and the respective legal framework.