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Another Dangerous New Mental Health Bill
NEW LABOUR'S Mental Health Bill includes provision for people with mental illnesses to be committed to long stay accommodation in case they may become a danger to the public (or themselves). The Scottish parliament has also decided that the mentally ill can be subjected to compulsory treatment.
The government calls this proposed legislation the greatest reform of mental health provisions for 40 years. Reform is supposed to mean improvement, but the proposals are not about improving treatment for people with mental illnesses.
The Tories closed long-stay mental hospitals and transferred patients into the "community." This was to save money not provide better care. Mental health users and people with learning disabilities often find themselves in hostels without access to treatment or adequate support.
Some have resorted to self-harm or minor criminal offences in order to get access to an emergency mental heath bed. Large cities have around ten to thirty of these beds available and the longest stay is three days.
There is a stigma attached to being mentally ill. The charity SANE has a poster up at my psychologist's office: "You don't have to be mentally ill to suffer from a mental illness".
The media and politicians use the term "mentally ill" to mean violent, dangerous, and untreatable and usually someone with schizophrenia. There has been an outcry at the proposal to release Eden Strang from long-stay secure accommodation, despite the fact that his schizophrenia has responded well to treatment and he will continue to receive treatment and be supervised.
One in four people suffer from some form of mental illness in the course of their lives.
Compulsion will cover people who have "a disability or disorder of mind or brain which results in an impairment or disturbance of mental functioning."
The Royal College of Psychiatrists says that these criteria are so wide that large numbers of patients would find themselves inappropriately "sectioned". In fact, it could cover any mental illness. I have clinical depression triggered by stress - it covers me!
It is a law that could be misused. In the first half of the 20th century single women who had sexual relationships or became pregnant were permanently committed to mental institutions. In Stalin's Russia opponents and dissidents were incarcerated in mental institutions.
The Bill has been produced in reaction to a small number of violent acts and murders committed by people with mental illnesses who have not had proper treatment or care.
The only compulsion needed is compulsion on the health service to protect the mentally ill. These measures will increase the stigma of mental illness and drive people away from seeking treatment.
We need a mental health care system that is properly resourced, based on people's needs and with users and carers playing a full role in their own treatment and how the system operates.
Ignorance, prejudice, fear and the stigma of mental illness must be dispelled so that this can happen.
The exploitation and inequalities of capitalism itself causes many people to become mentally ill. Capitalism does not consider it profitable to provide proper research, prevention, diagnosis and treatment. The mental health of all would be a fundamental priority in a socialist society.
In The Socialist 12 July 2002: