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J Psychiatr Ment Health Nurs. 2008 Apr;15(3):186-94. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2850.2007.01188.x.

Dangerousness and mental health policy.

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Centre for Mental Health Studies, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea, South Wales, UK.


Mental health policy development in the UK has become increasingly dominated by the assumed need to prevent violence and alleviate public concerns about the dangers of the mentally ill living in the community. Risk management has become the expected focus of contemporary mental health services, and responsibility has increasingly been devolved to individual service professionals when systems fail to prevent violence. This paper analyses the development of mental health legislation and its impact on services users and mental health professionals at the micro level of service delivery. Historical precedence, media influence and public opinion are explored, and the reification of risk is questioned in practical and ethical terms. The government's newest proposals for compulsory treatment in the community are discussed in terms of practical efficacy and therapeutic impact. Dangerousness is far from being an objectively observable phenomenon arising from clinical pathology, but is a formulation of what is partially knowable through social analysis and unknowable by virtue of its situation in individual psychic motivation. Risk assessment can therefore never be completely accurate, and the solution of a 'better safe than sorry' approach to mental health policy is ethically and pragmatically flawed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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