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An online and in person photo exhibition displayed in London and Manchester will detail the experiences of diverse people detained under the Mental Health Act.

One of the participants' photographs:

'This represents medication and that everything in hospital revolves around it. It’s routine, there's no option, it can feel forced. But in the end it helps.' © Co-Pact/Department of Psychiatry/University of Oxford
'This represents medication and that everything in hospital revolves around it. It’s routine, there's no option, it can feel forced. But in the end it helps.'

Sixty people took part in the project led by Oxford University, and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s (NIHR) Policy Research Programme, which captured their reflections on the process of detention and life on a mental health ward.

The majority (73%) of people who took part in this project were from racialised populations, who are disproportionately detained under the Mental Health Act.

The exhibition includes pictures of locked doors, medication, hospitals but also outdoor spaces, nature and family.

As well as being online the exhibition is also being shown in-person in Manchester on Thursday, 5th October and in London on Wednesday, 11th October.

Key findings following the photovoice project included:

  • Preventative care before detention was often considered ineffective with GPs not able to respond quickly enough, though some community nurses were considered supportive and helpful
  • The process of being detained could feel threatening and disrespectful, even inhuman.
  • There was a lack of clear information and explanation through detainment and on a ward, which could be confusing and distressing
  • Professionals who were part of detention and on wards could be hostile and even aggressive, with staff considered to be under-resourced and poorly trained.

The ‘photovoice’ project involves participants being given cameras and taking pictures, before describing and discussing what they associate with those photos. The contents will then be analysed and used to make changes at a local systems level in each of the eight areas that workshops have been held, and to inform current national policy reforms.

Professor Kam Bhui said: "The findings bring to life the challenging experiences of those living with mental illness who find themselves receiving compulsory care in crisis. We also explore the quality of care, the importance of family involvement, the lack of therapeutic environments and activities on inpatient settings, and the neglected nature of how upsetting and traumatic being sectioned can be. The co-design data already show optimism about the proposed solutions from those with lived experience."

Dr Roisin Mooney, who leads the project alongside Professor Bhui, said:

“Too often the voices and experiences of people who are detained under the Mental Health Act are overlooked or ignored, especially those who come from black and minority ethnic communities.

“These pictures shed new light on what it is like for those individuals who go through this process. They convey the experience of this group of people in a way that people may not be used to engaging with, and will have a lasting impact beyond the scope of this project.”

“These photographs demonstrate what a difficult and challenging time it is but also how it could be made better. In each area, we are now working with people across the different systems such as NHS Trusts, the police and the voluntary sector, as well as people who have experience of being sectioned to make changes based on the information in the photographs and the knowledge of the different people in the room. So far these changes may be around the way that medical notes are recorded, the information that people receive when they are sectioned and staff training. In parallel we are also thinking about where there are similar experiences across the different areas and how this may inform national policy.”

The photovoice project is part of the Co-Pact research project in Oxford’s Department of Psychiatry, which aims to improve the experiences of people detained under the Mental Health Act and reduce inequalities in the way the Act is used. Currently people from racialised populations are four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act than their white British counterparts, and tend to have worse experiences and outcomes.

Bobby Clarke from London, who took part in the Co-Pact photovoice research, said:

“I have been in and out of hospital for the last 30 years and sectioned a number of times. I went through a real rough time.

“Being in Co-Pact, it gives a bit more insight into you and where you’re coming from. It was great to be given the opportunity to try different things and talk to people on a different level. It shows there is help out there and has given me a bit of hope.”

The photovoice research has been conducted from eight centres across England: London, Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Oxford, Derby, Lancashire and Bradford.

The exhibition can be viewed online here now.

To find out more about the in-person exhibitions and how to attend sign up to the Co-Pact mailing list.