England's rate of involuntary psychiatric admission is double that of the Republic of Ireland: Why? A consideration of some possible causes

Med Sci Law. 2022 Jan;62(1):64-69. doi: 10.1177/00258024211029071. Epub 2021 Jun 25.


Involuntary psychiatric admission or 'sectioning' is a serious event with clear implications for the right to liberty, among other rights. Rates of involuntary admission vary considerably across jurisdictions. The rate of involuntary admission in England is approximately double that in the Republic of Ireland. Why? This paper examines potential explanations for this difference, including the prevalence of mental disorder in the two jurisdictions, factors relating to mental health legislation, differing levels of police involvement in care-pathways, funding and resources, and attitudes to risk among the public and professionals. Overall, it appears that the relatively high rate of involuntary admission in England might be attributable to the role of perceived risk in shaping mental health law in England but not Ireland, the broader definition of 'mental disorder' in the Mental Health Act, 1983 in England, broader legal criteria for involuntary admission in the 1983 Act, differences in the operational definitions of 'voluntary patient' between the two jurisdictions and, possibly, increased involvement of police in pathways to care in England and differences in relation to different ethnic groups. The relatively higher number of inpatient beds in England could be a cause or a consequence of higher rates of involuntary admission. Future research could usefully focus on other factors that are also likely relevant: issues relating to social care, substance misuse, availability of alternative treatment options in the community and various other factors that are, as yet, unknown. The potential impact of risk aversion among mental health professionals and others merits particular attention.

Keywords: Mental disorders; allocation of resources; involuntary commitment; legislation; mass media; police; prevalence; risk assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Commitment of Mentally Ill
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Ireland / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Mental Health
  • Psychotic Disorders*