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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.

Your reaction

Many seriously mentally ill people and their families have to battle for any treatment at all

Tom, UK
I quite agree with these proposals, but they do seem to suggest that the majority of mentally ill people would refuse to cooperate in their treatment unless forcibly detained. Many seriously mentally ill people and their families have to battle for any treatment at all. After suffering a breakdown in my teens, I was left to sleep rough and eat out of bins, and only came into contact with any form of psychiatric help when in custody, and then only copious quantities of ill-chosen medication. (I am now a middle class professional with a Master's degree, managing my condition without medication, and am offered all the support I want, which suggests that the government is missing the priority - treating those who slip through the net)
Tom, UK

I'd like to know how this legislation fits in with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Rich, UK

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?
Naomi, England

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.
Em, UK

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.
Keith, England

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.
Jason, Manchester,England

There is a real fear in people who do not understand mental illness and this leads them to do crazy things like suggesting we should be locked up

Cate, UK
I am very disturbed by this. I am also 'mentally ill'. I am a mother and a teacher of children. I receive counselling and medication and I am very stable most of the time. But there is a real fear in people who do not understand mental illness and this leads them to do crazy things like suggesting we should be locked up. Why not instead spend the money on more health resources for the ill and education for others? As someone said earlier, it is your basic right to walk down the street safely. I agree, but we too have the right to at least walk down the street don't we? Or have we become second class citizens?
Cate, UK

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.
Anon, UK

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.
Anthony, Reading, UK

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.
Anon, UK

It's no big change in policy and only serves to protect people

Andrew Torrance, Wales, UK
What is different between this proposal and the existing rules that allow someone to be sectioned ? Currently people who present a danger to themselves and others can be held in secure accommodation. The principle is well established. If we are simply talking of closing a loophole which has been exploited by a few criminals then why not? It's no big change in policy and only serves to protect people.
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.
Paul Monaghan, England

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.
Nikolai, Edinburgh, Scotland

Research shows that mental illness can affect anybody

Liz, London, England
At a time when many mental health organisations are trying to break down the stigma attached to mental illness, it does seem like a step backwards. Research shows that mental illness can affect anybody and can range from anything from mild depression, alcoholism through to severe schizophrenia. Locking people away doesn't deal with the problem; it just shuts it behind closed doors again and makes people afraid once more.
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.
Anon, UK

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.
Rory McSwiggan, Northern Ireland

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.
Alex Vulliamy, UK

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.
Guy Chapman, UK

A huge step back in mental healthcare

Ben Eaton, England
This is a huge step back in mental healthcare and will open the doors up for perfectly sane people to be detained against their will because they fail to meet personality criteria. It gives doctors a power that police don't have, i.e. to detain without trial. All civil liberties can be circumvented simply by labelling somebody as mad; this must not be allowed to happen.
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.
Anon, UK

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?

See also:

27 May 02 | Wales
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