Monday, February 18, 2008

The Guardian: Law 'reinforced mental health stereotypes'

David Batty
Monday February 18 2008

The government today admitted its controversial new mental health law led to negative media coverage that reinforced the misconception that people with mental health problems are violent.
The mental health tsar, Louis Appleby, said the Mental Health Act 2007's focus on protecting the public led the media to highlight the risks posed by those with mental disorders.

Professor Appleby said: "The protracted debate around the bill did unfortunately highlight in the media the issue of risk because of the legislation's focus on protecting both patients and the public - this was never the government's intention."

His comments came as the Department of Health published new guidance for journalists in a bid to end sensationalist coverage of mental health issues. The handbook, What's the Story?, says 27% of mental health coverage is about homicides and other violent crimes. In contrast, it notes that 9% of the 600 homicides in England and Wales each year are committed by someone with history of mental illness, though that condition is not always a factor in the crime.

"This new guidance is the first step in correcting the common misconception that people with mental health problems are likely to be violent," said Prof Appleby.

The BBC crime correspondent Mark Easton, who contributed to the DoH handbook, said the protracted passage of the act had led to lurid headlines about mad axmen dominating the media's coverage of mental illness.

Mental health campaigners complained the legislation, first proposed in 1998 but not passed until last year, reinforced the idea that everyone with a mental illness was potentially dangerous through its tough measures to force people to undergo treatment.
"It has completely warped coverage of mental health issues to focus on a tiny minority of psychopaths who are a significant risk to others," said Easton.

"I looked at the BBC news coverage of mental health since 1998 and there were well over 100 stories on our website about dangerousness, but hardly anything about innovations such as cognitive behavioural therapy, which has been a really extraordinary development in treatment for anxiety and depression."

Moira Fraser, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation, welcomed Prof Appleby's acknowledgement that the act had increased the stigma associated with mental illness.

"I think some of the debate around the Mental Health Act was completely damaging because there was a focus on risk or violence that didn't do any favours to people with mental health problems. An acknowledgement that was unhelpful is welcome."

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | cna certification