Mental, innit: the bleeding heart liberal’s obvious response

If you’re innocent, you have nothing to fear. Unless you’re mental unwell, in which case you’ll be locked up.

The government’s mental health bill, currently being debated in Parliament, makes me nervous. Very nervous indeed. In it you’re suddenly dispensing with the idea that someone is innocent until proved guilty, not to mention several basic human rights. Is this even compatible with human rights law?

I can see, and appreciate, what the government are trying to do here. It’s a tricky area: if someone appears to have a genuine and very real capacity to inflict harm or death on others then there’s also an argument for keeping them locked away, safe from hurting us or themselves. It’s a very utilitarian argument.

But two objections immediately spring out. The first is the thin end of the wedge argument. Who decides when somebody is a risk, and at what stage they can be locked up? Once you lock a few up, what’s the prevent some bright spark from deciding the policy is working well, so the remit can be extended. No, too dangerous for my liking.

Secondly, the individual may pose a serious threat. But, supposing they were allowed to remain free and never carried that threat of violence through? You’re depriving that person of their liberty.

A quick tangent. There are social factors which would suggest certain families or individuals are more likely to turn to crime or drugs than others. What, at a basic level, is the difference between locking up these people, or people with mental illnesses? After all, these families or individuals more disposed to crime could easily be removed, and a generation of career criminals, who would cause society endless problems, could be avoided. Should we lock these up as well? Or how about the wreckless driver who r is known to use their mobile phone while driving, or is simply a bad driver. These, it could be argued, are more likely to cause death by dangerous driving? Should they be locked up or have their licence revoked to avoid the risk of this happening? Again, what’s the difference between the two?

These are unusual, uncommon crimes. It’s not every day a psychopath attacks a family with a hammer, say. There is the argument that one is too much but unless you’ve got an authority who are prepared to take control and risk manage to such a high degree, people will slip through the system [1]. And even if the controls are tight, if one again slips through, there will be further calls, fresh legislation in response, the system tightens up and more liberty is deprived.

I live with somebody who happens to be working on issues surrounding preventative measures for mental health at the moment. I also know somebody who works in this area. I’ve spoken to both of them today – they’re both against it.

Ok, so they aren’t representative of the whole medical body but at least they’re able to speak with some amount of authority on the topic. They’ve both emphasised early treatments or better systems in place to spot those whose mental health is likely to reach this stage [2]. But, as one of them said, the problem with this is it’s difficult to quantify if its been successfully or not. Those who are successfully spotted and treated early on generally don’t go on to kill somebody, so there’s no bar by which you can judge a success rate or not. And with a government that places emphasis on targets and figures, it’s very difficult to see how this fits in with their vision.

[1] And this isn’t wishing to belittle, or be insensitive to those who’ve lost loved ones in cases that government’s trying to avoid.

[2] And yes, I’m well aware this is a massive generalisation, but I really haven’t got time to write further. I’m due somewhere in about 20 minutes.

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