Pure Madness: How Fear Drives the Mental Health System

By Jeremy Laurance | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

The state we're in

Psychiatric treatment can often do no more than apply a sticking plaster to society's ills. Anyone who spends a few months examining the mental health system as I have cannot fail to be struck by that. People with an inherited vulnerability are driven mad by their impoverished, pressured and distressing circumstances, powerful anti-psychotic drugs bring them round and then they are returned to face the same desperate problems.

In one ward round I attended in Hackney, east London, I met a mother treated as a drudge by her family who started hearing voices, felt persecuted by her relatives and threatened one of them with a meat cleaver. Her family denied she was mentally ill ('She just needs drugs to help her sleep, doctor') because they wanted her back to cook and clean for them.

There was the African refugee who saw his father murdered and his home torched, who lost contact with his wife and children and did not know whether they were dead or alive and who was living in one room in a hostel with his mother. Uprooted, isolated, bereaved, he was, unsurprisingly, suicidal.

There was the arsonist who compounded his schizophrenia by smoking cannabis and crack and suffered from paranoid feelings and heard voices. ('The thing is, the weed helps me to relax and talk to people, doc.') He had set fire to the kitchen of his house the previous week.

Each one had to be assessed clinically, on the nature of their illness, and socially, on their chances of coping in the community once they were discharged. Dr Trevor Turner, clinical director of the community psychiatric service at Homerton Hospital, said: 'How do we

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