Saturday, October 12, 2013

Irrational homicide risk management

The Sun has been taken to task for producing the front page headline that 1200 people have been killed by mental patients in the last 10 years (see Guardian and New Statesman articles). The Daily Star had a similar report. This article quotes from Marjorie Wallace, whose intentions, I think, are to improve funding for mental health services, but her campaigning on behalf of her mental health charity, SANE, has, in my view, actually undermined services.

She complained to The Sun that a failure of communication between one agency and another has been found in 90% of homicide inquiry cases. But, communication is not perfect in everyday practice. In fact, it is commonplace for staff to have to cover 'gaps', such as not having complete information. Such imperfections are usually managed without adverse consequences.

The question is whether such homicides really reflect failings in Britain's mental health system. There has certainly been overreaction in some homicide inquiries, which do not always apply accountability sensibly. It is a phantasy, which we need to disabuse ourselves of, to believe that mental health services can have absolute control in preventing homicides by their patients (see my unpublished article and associated conference presentation). I'm not saying services don't need to be improved, but attacking them for homicides by psychiatric patients is not always the best way to improve them. Political motivation should have nothing to do with sensible risk management.


Francesca Allan said...

There's a strange phenomenon at work here which is jumping from "crazy person kills someone" to "must have been because he was crazy."

How would we feel about similar analysis applied to race, for instance? Mental illness is not a good predictor of violence.

Frank Blankenship said...

How many mental patients have been killed by psychiatry in the last 10 years? Were the question asked, I think the figure would have to be way way over 1,2oo. Apparently, The Sun is very conveniently discriminating when it comes to the statistics it finds relevant.