It might be surprising to many people in the UK that mental health is the area of practice in which social workers have the most direct power in relation to the restriction of liberties of citizens. This is despite the raised public profile of child protection work and the prominence of statutory social work in that arena. Since the Mental Health Act 1959 (MHA), social workers have carried the primary responsibility for applying for admission to hospital of people with a mental disorder, although, as we shall see, the Mental Health Act 1983, as amended by the 2007 Act (hereafter referred to as the MHA 1983) has broadened the role to incorporate other professionals. This chapter will consider: the social and institutional factors that have shaped the law in relation to people living with mental health problemshow in modern times the legal context has influenced the social work rolethe part played by social workers in relation to people detained in mental hospitals or treated compulsorily in the communitythe role of social workers in the deprivation of liberty of individuals by virtue of mental incapacitythe social work contribution to safeguarding, with particular regard to the tribunal systemsome potential trends for the future.
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