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Implementing mental health law: a comparison of social work practice across three jurisdictions

Philip O’Hare (Senior Lecturer, based at University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK)
Gavin Davidson (Lecturer, based at Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK)
Jim Campbell (Professor, based at Goldsmiths, University of London, London, UK)
Michael Maas-Lowit (Senior Lecturer, based at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK)

The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice

ISSN: 1755-6228

Article publication date: 29 November 2013




Over the last 12 years there have been substantial developments in UK law and policy relevant to mental health social work practice. The previous legal frameworks across the jurisdictions were very similar but the new laws have developed in different ways and provide greater opportunities for comparison. Across all the jurisdictions policy developments, especially in the areas of recovery and risk assessment, have influenced the way that mental health social workers practice.


This exploratory study used case study vignettes with 28 respondents to examine how these major legal and policy developments impact on social work practice.


There were variations in how levels of risk are defined and often a lack of clarity about how this informs decisions. There was a consensus that recovery is important but difficulties in understanding how this might apply in crises. Predictably, differences in legal and policy contexts meant that there were a variety of perspectives on how mental health social workers applied the laws in their jurisdictions.

Research limitations/implications

The limited focus on research informed practice and the lack of transparency in decision making across areas of risk assessment and intervention, use of recovery approaches and the use of mental health laws suggest the need for a more evidence-based approach to training, education and practice.


There is very limited previous research on practitioner experiences of the complexities involved in implementing mental health law. This paper provides some insights into the issues involved and for the need for more detailed examination of the decision-making processes involved.



O’Hare, P., Davidson, G., Campbell, J. and Maas-Lowit, M. (2013), "Implementing mental health law: a comparison of social work practice across three jurisdictions", The Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice, Vol. 8 No. 4, pp. 196-207.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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