Monday, October 29, 2007

Lunatics in charge of the Asylum

I met Duncan the other day. Well, I say met, if a meeting is what you would call several 999 calls to a naked man running around in the street.

Duncan wasn't running around in the street when we got there, but he was happily doing the backstroke amongst the petunias in someones back garden.

Still naked, I might add.

Duncan was actually quite pleased to see us, and actually had to be handcuffed to ensure there was no physical actualisation of him being pleased to see us, if you catch my drift. Although he did stop when the female ambulance staff arrived, saying he would never do that in front of a lady, but was quite annoyed at our reluctance to let him pleasure himself in front of us.

Duncan unsurprisingly was sectioned under our S136 Mental Health Act powers- which to summarise is that if we find someone who appears to be suffering from mental illness, in a public place, in need of immediate care or control for their or the public's safety, we can take them (against their will if need be) to a place of safety, usually a hospital.

I say appears to be suffering from Mental Illness. Being mere police officers we are of course unqualified to say anything definitive about mental health symptoms and so there are a number of things that must happen once we get to said hospital to ensure it really is mental illness- which involves waiting (usually for for several hours) for a suitably qualified collection of people to say that they are indeed mentally ill.

We were fortunate enough to section Duncan in office hours, so everyone was actually present and he was sectioned and sent straight back to the ward from where he was released less than 24 hours earlier.

You see, if Duncan doesn't take his medication, within 12 hours he effectively becomes a hyperactive 5 year old who cannot stop talking (or shouting, singing etc) at 120 miles an hour and has absolutely no idea of social norms. Hence the naked swimming in flowerbeds, masturbating and attempting to punch ambulance crews. He will have no recollection of these events.

But within 24hrs of ensuring he has his medication, his symptoms will have all but gone as the haywire bit of brain is brought back in line. He will be released back into the "care of the community".

He will then stay at a "sheltered" accomodation. I spoke to the warden at the place where Duncan was staying before his naked endeavours. I got seriously wound up with the attitude of this warden, which could be summed up as "Do I look like I care".

To me, this means one of two things. The warden from day one just couldn't give a hoot about their role in making sure the residents have their medication- they are happy with their state provided flat and call whichever emergency service whenever a resident gets out of line etc.

Or. They started with the best intentions, but got overwhelmed by the enormity of their task with little or no support. Their are about 50 rooms in this sheltered housing block. With the one warden who occasionally has daytime support staff.

People with mental health problems should not be locked up and hidden away. I know people who have done and do suffer with mental health problems. But if people don't have caring and patient families and friends to support them, and have to rely on the state to help, then the outlook is bleak.

Care in the community sounds great on paper, and I'm sure makes all the right political noises and has all the right buzzwords of "inclusion", "equity" and all that. But the reality is a perpetual cycle that is underresourced and overwhelmed, and has few success stories.

The title of the post, by the way, refers to the government. Not anyone actually involved in dealing with mental health.