A sledgehammer to crack a nut

Legislation should never be approached lightly nor enacted without
good reason. So I challenge the government to justify bringing in
the draconian law contained in the draft Mental Health Bill.

The media-inspired image of “dangerous” mental health patients is
false. The biggest risks of harm we face are from people who have
been drinking and either become violent or drive, or both. Those
who have a mental illness are a small minority within a given
population while those who might present a risk – usually to
themselves, not others – are a small group within that already
small group.

The other thing about mental illness that makes the demonisation of
sufferers so unforgivable is that there is practically no cure.
This means sufferers will endure a life sentence of contact with
medical and social work professionals and, on some occasions,
likely readmission to hospital. This is enough to put up with
without the label of “dangerous” as well.

A few patients occasionally refuse to comply with medication, and
this needs to be addressed. However, a simple change to the
existing law would permit those who so decline to be recalled to
hospital for treatment, without the drastic changes the government

Change the rules about a mental health professional so that medical
staff or others employed by the NHS can fulfil the currently
independent role of the approved social worker, and that
independence will immediately disappear. Ally these things with the
compulsory orders proposed, and what do you have? A

Picture this worst-case scenario: two doctors and another medical
worker assess a person whose crime is being “different” and a
nuisance. Personality disorder is diagnosed, the person is
sectioned under the new act, locked up, given treatment, placed
before a new tribunal, placed on a compulsory treatment order and
from then on is entirely under the control of a consultant

The government’s approach is breathtakingly ignorant. Mental
illness is defined as any condition that responds to medical
treatment. Personality disorder does not respond to medical
treatment. The only treatment shown to make any difference is
psychology-driven – often in the cognitive behavioural therapy
range. Where is the sense, then, in insisting that the medical
profession try to take on this enormous job?

Paul Jewitt is a forensic social worker and approved social

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