Sunday, December 03, 2006

"Mentally ill" on a murderous rampage....

The Sunday rant………………..

“One person a week killed by mentally ill” screamed the front page of today’s Observer. Yeah, still "mad", "bad" and "dangerous" to know!

That stigmatising and unfortunate headline narked me beyond belief. Read the piece and it is about how people labelled with mental distress are being assessed who then allowed to go out and kill. And interestingly, they have also lumped suicides by mentally distressed people as well into the mix.

Instead of highlighting the inadequacies of psychiatry and so-called patient care the piece lays emphasis on the homicides committed by low-risk nutcases. I was considered low-risk when I was in the bin many years ago. And now we have the publication of Avoidable Deaths by my old favourite, mental health “tsar” Louis Appleby. I just wonder how the government will react especially with changes to the Mental Health Act recently published and I also just wonder how much political pressure Appleby was under as he should damn well know what impact stigmatising people with mental health problems does.

Instead of looking at ways to improve patient care, better communication and so on the government will believe they are justified to increase the powers of compulsory treatment and ways of locking up people with an untreatable “illness” that is personality disorder. Protecting the public outweigh the rights of people labelled with mental distress. Marjorie Wallace, that doyen of the lock ‘em up brigade though under the pretence that she cares, argues:

“In order to respect the human rights of a patient, it seems you become cold to the pleas and warnings of families that they have to be deteriorating and not taking medication”.

Well Marjorie, you’ll possibly get your way with the new changes to the Mental Health Act. Advocacy and rights of the user will disappear. I am not getting into a discussion this time about the role of carers but what I will say is that the voice of the user gets lost along the way.

In 2002 there were 873 homicides and less than 5% were attributed to people with mental health problems. This is where the dishonesty of the statistics comes into play as for most people the chance of being killed by someone with mental health problems is very low but on the surface of this article especially the headline it looks like we are all fair game to the nutcase lurking in the bushes.

In the States, it is estimated that someone labelled with a psychosis is more likely (14 times) to be a victim of a violent crime than to be arrested for such crime. The British Journal of Psychiatry (1999) published a study by Taylor et al about care in the community and perceived dangerousness, concluded: “There is no evidence that it is anything but stigmatising to claim that their living in the community is a dangerous experience that should be reversed”.

Sensationalist and stupid headlines do nothing to stem the stigmatising of people with mental health problems, it makes things worse. There is more newspaper space devoted to negative stories regarding mental distress as opposed to anything positive. But hey, positive stories don’t sell papers.

Years ago I lived next door to a woman who I was friendly with as we were both crime fiction fans. I used to look after her cat when she was away and I used to browse her enormous crime fiction collection. One day she told me she was rather “disturbed” that the council were planning to develop houses in the street for people coming out of long term psychiatric care. Her nimby reaction shocked me as well as the fact these plans had an impact on her liberal sensibilities. I always had her down as a leftie (means nowt, I know…).
I explained to her that only recently I had been in the psychiatric system and I had lived in the kind of houses the council were planning to create when I was a teenager. She looked me up and down and replied: “But you don’t look like one of them”.

Yeah, but what does one of them look like anyway?