Letter: Abuse of psychiatry

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The Independent Culture
Sir: I find Jack Straw's proposals for the detention of people with personality disorders deeply disturbing.

As a trainee psychiatrist I have been taught that a personality disorder is characterised by enduring traits or patterns of behaviour. Unfortunately lecturers, books, and research have been unable to tell me how to distinguish with certainty between those people with personality disorders who will go on to harm others and those who won't.

Jack Straw will be unable to find a panel of experts who can make this distinction. There will inevitably be a large number of people detained indefinitely who would not have gone on to commit a serious crime. Once detained it would be difficult to countenance their release, for the very nature of these disorders is that their features are enduring.

I am far from clear where the numbers of 300-600 people in the community who would be targeted by the new legislation come from (report, 20 July). In my limited experience I have met many people whom in the opinion of Mr Straw I should be learning to lock up. The numbers would far exceed the current estimates.

The destruction of one life by unnecessary indefinite detention is unacceptable. If enacted this legislation would be responsible for the destruction of many lives and the devaluation of psychiatry if as psychiatrists we allow ourselves to become involved in such abuses.

Dr JUDITH HALFORD

Glasgow

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