Doing What’s Best, but Best for Whom? Ethics and the Mental Health Social Worker
Of all areas of social work, it is perhaps that of mental health that poses more ethical questions than any other. For the Approved Mental Health Practitioner (AMHP) (a role still held predominantly by social workers although it can also be undertaken by other specified professional groups such as Community Psychiatric Nurses), there is the not inconsiderable issue of the powers given to them by the Mental Health Act (MHA) 1983/2007. The MHA allows the AMHP, subject to having the required medical recommendations, to make an application for the detention in hospital (for assessment or assessment followed by treatment) of someone deemed to have a mental disorder, irrespective of the person’s wishes. In other words, the person can be legally detained and medically treated against his will, not necessarily because of what they have done but on the basis of what professionals think they may do in future. And whilst the decision to invoke these powers will be based on an assessment as to the risk that the person (possibly soon to be patient) poses to either themselves or others, it is important to note that detention and treatment under the Mental Health Act can also be solely on the basis that it is, again in the opinion of professionals, deemed to be in the interests of the patient’s health.