Marjorie Wallace: How the law fails those who harm themselves

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The Independent Online

About 170,000 people a year - most of them teenagers and young adults - are seeking hospital treatment having either deliberately injured themselves or taken an overdose, but 80,000 are sent home again. There is no follow-up - such as an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychological counselling. The pain remains, they harm themselves again, are patched up and so the cycle continues.

And the more it continues, the more a person becomes addicted to self-harm as a way of relieving the pain and what started as cutting the wrists or a small overdose becomes more extreme.

It is so sad to hear of a case like Rebecca Gidney's. Why should someone who is in mental pain be criminalised for relieving that pain - albeit at the inconvenience of other people? Surely if she had been offered more treatment, a place where she could take refuge, she would not have to resort to harming herself in a public place. No one carries out an act like that unless he or she is feeling extremely disturbed or distressed and what is important is to find ways of breaking that cycle of behaviour. I do realise we cannot overburden the system trying to cope with those whose conditions are treatable. But at the same time it is not humane simply to pass the buck to the criminal justice system. A humane society should be able to respond more effectively to people who may not easily be treated but who need help.

The writer is the chief executive of the mental health charity Sane

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