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Tuesday, 2 January, 2001, 12:36 GMT
Should people be detained against their will?
The government has unveiled plans to detain people with serious personality disorders who are thought to pose a risk to others. It also proposes powers to force mentally ill people to take their medication.
Health Secretary Alan Milburn says the proposals are necessary to protect patients and mental health staff as well as the public.
However, critics say there can be no justification for detaining people against their will who have committed no crime.
Are these powers necessary to protect staff, patients and the public? Or are they a viloation of human rights?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Difficult one really, I think if this were to be implemented then a serious re-think would have to be made into the state of the hospitals that are available. The mental hospitals at present have a tendency to make people feel worse, not better. Forced incarceration would be full of its own psychological problems to a person faced with it. This could send someone "over the top" and then they remain incarcerated as a result. If there is serious threat to others or themselves a person should be looked after appropriately but there should be a middle house perhaps before hospitalisation.
Dan Griffith, U.S.
As an ex-pat mental health nurse of some 19 years standing I have read with interest the comments on this page. It is clear that the majority of comments have missed the single most important point - there is a huge difference between a formal mental Illness such as schizophrenia and the various types of personality disorders. Someone with schizophrenia may (and I repeat may) represent a risk because of a clear and identifiable delusion - perhaps they may be convinced that another individual means them harm and so chooses attack as the best form of defence so to speak. While this is tragic it is much more predictable than problems caused by personality disorders. These individuals often have no comprehension of right and wrong as we know it. They will have no empathy for those they hurt nor will they have any genuine understanding of "our" point of view.
Whilst the former is reasonably easy to identify the latter certainly is not.
Having myself been detained under a "section", and having been labelled as having a borderline personality disorder, I think that it is totally wrong just to detain people who have committed no crime just because there is a possibility that they might harm someone.
Also I think what the Government is proposing just heightens the fear that the general public already feel because they aren't correctly informed about mental illness. The majority of people with a mental illness are just trying to get on with their everyday lives the best way they can. However I do accept that a small number of people do need to be detained for their own safety, and for the safety of the public
If we should detain people to protect the public, maybe we should start by locking up politicians!
Why all the fuss? People are 'Sectioned' every single day in the UK. This is for the benefit of themselves and of others. There are already safeguards which presumably are working as I can't recall any complaints recently.
This appears to be another excuse for Human Rights organisations to stir up non-existent issues.
Generally it is a good idea to protect the general public from mentally ill and potentially dangerous patients. Still, I fear that this law may well be misused in order to silence people of controversial political opinions or to carry out personal vendettas. Forcing people to take medication that they don't want to take, specially considering the side-effects of most such medication seems a little drastic.
Naturally this system could be open to abuse, but there is also a great deal of potential for good. If this system is ONLY to be used to detain those who are a serious risk to others then one can imagine the benefits. The question that is immediately raised, is, of course, how to decide who should be admitted for treatment. Perhaps admittance could be based on a nomination basis.
Jeanne Lane, UK
The greatest threat to our remaining freedoms and liberties no longer comes from external enemies but from our own Government.
What happened to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that all UN countries subscribed to? I believe that all forms of human beings deserve protection even when some have disabilities. I condone the detention of these unfortunate people even if it is in the interest of public as its not their fault to be impaired. The people calling for their detention should wake-up and thank God they are more able physically and mentally. Even then question your conscience.
Persons who are significantly dangerous to themselves or to others should be detained whether they like it or not. These are the only justifications for detaining people against their will.
Pamela Jones (ex pat), Australia
Liza, thank you so very much for your comment. It is so easy for society to label those with mental illness as a danger to the so-called sane. The majority of those with mental illness suffer from neurosis not psychosis. No one would ever dream of forcing a cancer patient to undergo chemo, or a diabetic to take their insulin. Diagnosing a mental illness is far from being an exact science. There have been many a person misdiagnosed as being a schizophrenic. Who is going to protect the mental ill from society? The greater population allows and participates in trivialising and stigmatising the mentally ill.
My sister-in-law, aged 30, is currently in a mental hospital. She has been ill for at least ten years and it was only last month that she had her first contact with the services. Her family had tried to look after her, but basically failed and her condition has steadily deteriorated. Over the past few months she was eating hardly anything, had become paranoid (convinced she was being followed, bugged at all times). Would not sleep in case 'they' got her. Would not bathe in case 'they' saw her. She set fire to her papers which she didn't want 'them' to find (started a fire in a plastic bin). She had been living with her sister, who was stressed, exhausted, miserable, missing work, had no social life and who's house had become a fortress (of which she was frequently locked out). My sister in law was sectioned last month and is in hospital. I am glad she is there, and hope she stays there until she is happier and healthier and in a condition where she can take better care of herself, be more pleasant to be around, and plan a future. It is very rare, I believe that you are 'only' a threat or danger to yourself.
People with serious mental disorders who pose a risk to others should be detained, because everyone of us has the right to live in a safe society. Whether the detention violates human rights depends on how the government or the people who are in charge of the action implement it. In tyrant countries, governments often detain political dissidents in psychiatric hospitals and force them to take psychiatric medicines. These governments certainly violate the human rights. But if the government detains someone with a serious mental disorder for the safety of others you can't say that it violates human rights. Actually it protects our majority's human rights.
Peter Nelson, USA
The purpose of incarceration is not principally to punish the offender but to stop him/her committing acts which are injurious to the public. The point is that jail and previously the death penalty and other less serious "punishments" were put in hand for the protection of society by locking the perpetrators of crime away so they could do no more harm and by letting it be known that any similar crime would be dealt with in a like manner. Thus, the purpose of the law is to protect the public. The implementation is another matter, however. It is possible, even in the best of societies, that errors will arise and that someone may be intentionally locked away in malice: for this we have the fact that this is said to be a democracy, and that the law and medical services are in the vast majority of cases able to keep such unfortunate aberrations to a minimum. The new system will be a lot better than the old, where being incurably insane was apparently a method of achieving one's freedom.
Huw Sayer, England
People with serious mental disorders should be detained in a secure environment, for their own and the public's safety.
A question I raise is this, are the people who are calling for these people to live within the community, prepared to give up their own time to look after them, or do they expect relatives or social services to do it. My wife works for social services, and I would not like to think that she would have to call on mentally ill people when their is a high risk of personal injury. Please think it through!
E George, UK
Is this an admission, at last, that care in the community has failed?
There is a two-way process that means give and take on both sides. The mentally ill patients have a right to be cared so that they do not injure themselves, but more importantly so that they do not hinder the general public. You have to be realistic and get away from this "infringement of human rights" nonsense.
As long as safeguards are in place I cannot see why people are so against this. I think it is only common sense that you don't allow people who are considered dangerous to roam around. To say that total freedom for a relatively small group of people is more important than innocent people's lives is not sensible.
Invariably all people suffer periods of their life which contain bouts of depression and irrational behaviour that could be construed as mental illness, there is a fine line between irrational and dangerous. It would appear to be on the increase in more recent times, so far from treating the symptom, shouldn't the powers that be try and find the reasons for this sudden upsurge in the proportion of the population that are unable or unwilling to cope with the stresses of everyday life?
Anna Bye, England
While it is important to protect the public from those who may harm them, it is equally important to safeguard the rights of the disadvantaged. Careful controls will be required to ensure that such measures are not taken to extremes and used to justify injustices against those with disorders over which they have no control.
Is it 1984 already?
Care in the community was not introduced for medical reasons, rather to permit the large-scale sale of hospital sites. It is a policy that has failed sufferers as well as the public and shames us all. These are vulnerable members of society, and they deserve better than being thrown onto the streets where many are forced to live in the absence of proper care facilities.
Rather not say, UK
What is being suggested here is detention without trial for crimes that haven't been committed.
Who is perfect and who is normal? Better still who is to say so?
I'm all for it. In
fact, I think we should
detain most of the
Cabinet right away.
I have been an Approved Social Worker for the past 17 years and thus been responsible for many people admitted to hospital under a 'section' of the Mental Health Act. Let's move slowly and carefully on this one or we might do more injustice than we would wish.
I have a friend who spent some time in a mental hospital suffering from schizophrenia. While she was suffering badly, she had very little control over her actions and was almost entirely unpredictable. In those circumstances, it was in her best interests to be held somewhere safe and made to take her medication until she returned to (almost) normality. She's very glad that she was helped, as she's a lot happier now.
These powers are only acceptable if backed
up by safeguards to
prevent their abuse. Is
it better to wrongly detain
person or let an ill person
The first question to be answered in this debate is who defines that a person is mentally ill? History shows that the answer depends heavily on the political and economic systems you happen to live in. And as long as there is no definite line you can draw between "normal" and "ill" persons there should be no detention for people with mental health problems whatsoever.
When we are talking about people with a serious personality disorder, I believe that they should be detained. Human rights is an important issue but whoever considers the rights of the victims of these people?
How on earth do the government think they are going to inforce this? In my experience (9+ years of severe mental illness with repeated addmissions to hospital) the only way to medicate forcabely is to detain a patient and we already have those powers in the existing Mental Health Act.
Medication for mental illness is not like taking an asprin and getting an imediate response. The only way to really get effective treatment with medication taken by anyone who has mental illness is to supervise them 24hrs a day in a secure hospital environment.
No-one likes this but untill there are more effective support groups and 1-2-1 care available for those who want and need it we will continue to see 1000+ people killing themselves a year and a few tragic deaths of innocent by-standers who become targets for pschotic individuals who have slipped through the care net.
Unfortunately this kneejerk reaction legislation would not have been necessary had care in the community been introduced slowly and with an appropriate support structures in place.
If the government were truly interested in preventing unnecessary deaths in this country in any substantial way they would be targeting killers in cars, drunk drivers and speeding offences in inner city areas where many more people are killed every year than by psychiatric patients.
This is yet another institutionalised way of marginalising the "other" in our society, the mentally ill who are already the but of prejudice, hate crimes,isolation, discrimination, made vulnerable,and disenfranchised by society as a whole.
We are the new trendy target for "humorous" advertising campaigns, fear of our illnesses is rife due to widespread ignorance of our illnesses, all the media seem to revel in the persicution of us, and for what?
We were all just like you once, before we developed these illnesses we are normal working, average people who know as little about our illnesses as you. It's only when we are given a diagnosis that we have to learn whatever we can.
I believe the real reason all the "yous" out there are scared of all the "uses" out here is that you all know in your hearts you are potentially the next patient to be admitted.
It's time for us to face up to this as a mature society and realise that like the eldery, the mentally ill need to be given the respect we deserve because it could be you next, to be forced to take powerful medication in your own home against your will. We are the under class of the 21st century, pray to God you don't become one, it's a who different world from this side of the medication.
The government's already poor record on civil liberties is to be compounded by the detention of people who have committed no offence, on the basis that someone else suspects them of suffering a mental disorder.
Psychiatric disagnosis is not exact. You cannot diagnose a disorder like you can a broken leg. Yet people are now to be locked up on the basis of what are no more than educated guesses.
Meanwhile, those patients who remain free are to be deprived of the common right to decide for themselves whether their medication - and medication can be harmful - is suitable or necessary.
By what right are people to be treated as incapable of making their own decisions?
It is no use talking of "safeguards". Anyone who, like me, has been through the psychiatric system, knows how difficult it is to get professional people, like doctors, to accept that their colleagues are capable of error.
Moreover, the stigmatising of mental patients implict in these proposals makes it that much more unlikely that the patient's views will be listened to.
These proposals are a recipe for future injustice. No party that supports them will have my vote.
Well, Thatcher's Care in the Communty didn't work did it! It's only taken 15 years to make this astounding connection. If people are a threat then they should be removed from the public domain. Harsh I know, but effective.
It is a shame that people can be detained
at all. "Mental health" has been a tool
used lately by the Russians to detain whoever
they want to. The Chinese are doing it too.
It is a form of mental abuse rather than mental health.
It ought to be outlawed but, knowing how we in the
West seem to vote for the wrong people and do
what is against our interests - that will probably
happen to us too.
It's important to protect the public from unstable people. It's not a question of imprisoning or punishing mentally ill people, but rather keeping them in a place where they can be treated constantly at no risk to themselves or other people. Eventual release from a hospital would also be a great incentive to get better, a light at the end of the tunnel for detained patients.
They should detain people if they're a threat to the public. Not if they're only a threat to themselves - one's own body is one's own property.
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