Get access

The philosophical and sociological context of mental health care legislation


  • Bob Symonds RMN RCNT Cert Ed FE MA

    1. Senior Lecturer, School of Clinical Nursing Studies, Faculty of Health and Community Care, University of Central England in Birmingham, Birmingham, England
    Search for more papers by this author

Bob Symonds 55 Chesterwood Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B13 0QQ, England.


This paper explores mental health legislation from a philosophical and sociological perspective. It is argued that mental health law exists primarily as a coercive social control instrument and that the maintenance of a separate legislative framework for the mentally ill is based upon dubious legal and philosophical grounds. The need for changes in mental health law has been accelerated by the move in Britain toward care in the community. One of the most important issues at the centre of the debate revolves around the concept of ‘dangerousness’ and mental disorder. The research into the extent to which the risk of violence can be predicted appears problematic from a reform perspective. Prediction is considered to be the overriding problem that leads to a violation of patients’ civil rights, especially in relation to black and ethnic minority groups. Equity in law is necessary for the protection of patient's rights and particularly for the protection of those people who enter mental health care systems concerned with issues of control at the expense of care.