Alliance warns against linking mental health reform and violence

30 October 2002

Campaigners today (October 30) urged the government to break the link between mental health reform and "dangerousness."

The call came as Home Secretary David Blunkett addresses the Zito Trust conference in London to defend government plans for a new mental health Act that would allow for the indefinite detention of people ministers view as dangerous, even though they have committed no crime.

Alliance chair Paul Farmer said:

"The government has chosen to link much-needed mental health law reform with issues of dangerousness and public protection, risking labelling everyone with a mental health problem in the public mind as potentially bad and dangerous. That is not acceptable.

Violence is not a symptom of mental illness. Tragic, but isolated, cases are writ large in the public consciousness because of lurid and repeated media coverage.

"Where violence does rarely occur, it is usually directed at a family member, the very people many Alliance members represent and the very people who are opposed to the government’s plans. Long and expensive inquiries into each of these isolated incidents all point to avoidable service failings, including the misinterpretation of existing legislation, not failings in the law.

"The draft mental health bill is unworkable and will not increase public protection - more people will avoid services for fear of compulsion and professionals will refuse to engage with the new laws.

"It is also unethical to frame laws potentially affecting the one in four of the population who experience a mental health problem based on the false premise that a tiny minority may prove to be dangerous at some time in the future.

"Public protection will be enhanced by encouraging people to speak openly about mental health, improving the quality of community services and breaking the false link between violence and mental health."