The elderly demented do many strange things; they shoplift, they urinate in public places, sadly they occasionally bruise and batter their nearest and dearest. They have rarely murdered anyone. When they do, they are treated with compassion and ‘locked up’ to coin a phrase, for their own good. They are medicated, one cannot say ‘against their will’, for they are often too confused to actually complain, their liberty is deprived, but again, one can’t actually say ‘against their will’ often because the words needed to complain are too jumbled and irrational to be understood as a complaint.
Equally, there are many whose level of intelligence and education, often non existent, is such that they are unable to comprehend the ‘necessity’ – in ‘someones eyes’ of their agreeing to some treatment – they too can find themselves behind locked doors with no release date in sight. Were it not for the devoted care and attention of his ‘foster parents’ who refused to go away and quietly accept his incarceration, the young man in the Bournewood case would never have come to the attention of the ‘Barmy Army’ of lawyers.
There is no army of Mental Health lawyers frothing at the mouth to spring them from this ‘deprivation of liberty’.
Make no mistake, there is an army of Mental Health lawyers, though most of them would be hard pushed to quote any section of the Act beyond section 4, for it is section 2 to 4 that enables involuntary admission to hospital – commonly known as sectioning, and that is the ‘sexy’ bit of the legislation.
So we have no difficulty as a society in accepting that large swathes of people are deprived of their liberty – albeit not technically – but a locked door is a locked door is a locked door. Why is it that when we land upon the subject of schizophrenia we suddenly come over all lily livered at the thought of anyone being deprived of their liberty simply because of their illness?
The Barmy Army come screaming out of their traps, armed with an in depth knowledge of their local Mental Health Tribunal, and fight tooth and nail to spring their ‘client’.
I believe that a large part of the blame must be laid at the doors of the media – albeit that they are pandering to our desire to have ‘bogeymen’ dangled before us.
The main stream media delight in demonising this particular form of dementia – witness the normally ultra politically correct BBC’s headlines yesterday – ‘Cannibal killer’. By tea time they had decided that we had been frightened enough, and keen not to send us to bed with nightmares, they were at pains to point out on the six o’ clock news that although we (allegedly!)have a one in 1,000 chance of being murdered, we only have a one in 20,000 chance of being murdered by a schizophrenic…that’s alright then Branwen. So long as I’m only likely to be murdered by a young hoody with a kitchen knife I promise not to be frightened.
When the media so demonise the results of an illness, and pick out the photograph with the most frightening staring eyes to illustrate their story, we are being encouraged to think of that person as being ‘evil’ rather than ill. ‘Evil’ is synonymous with sinner. We like to see sinners repent, it is the latent religious belief in all of us. The only way an ‘evil’ schizophrenic can repent is by being released, by being proven to be ‘cured’ by their Doctor, and so the pressure is on to release this person back into society – and invariably, the symptoms of their illness surface again, and they are demonised once again. Could it have anything to do with the preponderance of young black males with obviously untreated symptoms? Is this just latent racism? Semi jokingly, I would also enquire whether it is because of the high preponderance of smokers amongst schizophrenics. (Those interested in this subject might like to follow this link – unbelievable, positive attributes of smoking? Who could have guessed such a study existed!)
It doesn’t happen with the elderly demented, it doesn’t happen with the young and mentally challenged, we are quite happy to lock the door on them – but state that the door is not ‘legally locked’ in our mealy mouthed way. Why do we have such a problem with protecting those suffering from schizophrenia from themselves, and us from them, in the same way? Or to turn the question round to a Libertarian viewpoint, why don’t we let the elderly demented wander the streets and then demonise them when their dementia leads them to do unusual and criminal acts?