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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Mental health reforms: Are they necessary?
People suffering from untreatable personality disorders will be detained indefinitely, even if they have never committed a crime, under new government proposals.
In the biggest shake-up of mental health laws in the UK in 40 years the government has closed a legal loophole which allowed people with personality disorders to go free under the Mental Health Act of 1983.
The loophole caused a public outcry in the case of Michael Stone, who was diagnosed with a personality disorder before mudering Lin Russell and her six-year-old daughter Megan.
What do you think of the mental health reforms? Are they necessary? If so, do they go far enough?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I'd like to know how this legislation fits in with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Once again the squeaky wheel gets most grease. The minority of headline grabbing cases get new legislation and more funds. The majority of the mentally ill, those of us trying to live normal lives get no help, no recognition. We are ignored unless our illness escalates through lack of treatment. Then we become the violent minority; then we get noticed. I had a breakdown and have been waiting 18 months for treatment. Do I have to get violent to get attention?
I find it hard to understand why we are even discussing this issue, when the authorities regularly let convicted criminals out of prison to re-offend again and again. We so often hear stories of crimes committed by offenders who have been previously convicted, be they violent thugs, paedophiles, rapists or murderers. Surely it is these people who represent the bigger danger, not those of us who suffer from mental illness.
One small step to the old Soviet Union, political re-education next? Laugh - maybe but the last two governments of this country have put the laws and apparatus in place for misuse by any future extreme governments.
To Cate,UK: I understand your point of view completely, but we the public are not prepared for another "Michael Stone" to come along commit an horrific crime and then say "we can't do nothing, as he has a personality disorder". I accept that the vast majoritory of people with personality disorders would NEVER do anything like this, but people need to be assed on an individual basis, and if the relevant people deem them a threat to themselves and/or others, then I'm afraid they should be locked up.
I lived with a paranoid schizophrenic for 12 years and was regularly beaten, harangued, and had terrible lies told about me to everyone I knew. When that person was locked up it was the greatest relief of my life but it took me another 12 years to get over the experience. If that person had been taken from my life earlier, fewer people would have been harassed or attacked, and I would have fewer scars. I believe this is the sort of situation doctors are talking about, dangerous ones, not just people who get depressed. The schizophrenic was my mother, by the way.
My wife is a senior carer running a home for people who used to be in a mental hospital. As a community they support each other and manage to get through life reasonably well. Now the local health authority says that the home should be shut and these people should be 'supported' and live alone in a flat. The loneliness this will cause will undoubtedly cause much anxiety to them. This seems to be yet another policy from decision makers who are more concerned about people's rights than about the people themselves.
Speaking as one whose life was ruined by a person with a chronic mental disorder (he recognises he has a problem but refuses to do anything about it) I welcome this proposal. We know that about one in ten people in this country suffers from mental health problems at some point in their lives. The Government is not daft. It has no intention of trying to lock up in excess of 5 million people; it is simply trying to ensure that people who present a danger either to themselves or others are looked after in a safe environment.
Andrew Torrance, Wales, UK
This is outrageous! All you will succeed in doing is creating a situation whereby people with genuine mental health problems do not seek help for fear of being locked up. It's simply another example of society forcing the rights of society and not of the people in it.
The authorities should protect the public from the threat of violence. It is my basic right to feel safe when I walk down the street. If I am attacked I hold the authorities to blame, not the individual. I am happy to give the authorities whatever powers they need to do their job.
Liz, London, England
As part of the mentally disabled community, I find this proposal to be another step on the road to the 'real' Big Brother. One cannot apply a single law to such a complex sociological and psychological subject. This is truly bad news for humanity. Everyone, no matter what the condition of their mental health, should be worried by this.
Predefined rules about the type of people we want in society and what they can do are going too far. The government has a prejudiced and unhealthily repressive attitude towards health in general if this is the way that they hope to carry on.
In as far as it closes a loophole I think it is fair enough, though I have severe reservations about people being detained indefinitely because of a psychiatrist's diagnosis.
If someone presents a danger to the public, and this danger cannot be controlled by any known treatment, then it seems reasonable to allow a court to order indefinite detention, subject to regular review.
Ben Eaton, England
Locking these unfortunate people up without a trial or hope of release simply because they 'might' commit a crime is no justification to do so. This proposal is contemptible and I'm sure violates almost every human right we have under international law.
How do you define a "personality disorder" and how do you determine whether it is "treatable"? If someone has shown clear evidence of a tendency to harm others then perhaps indefinite detention may be the best prevention but for those who are "weird but harmless" how do you justify locking them up in case they might break the law at some time in the future?
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