Letter: Exaggerated fears of mental illness

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The Independent Online
Sir: Your leading article concerning the murder of Nikki Conroy at Hall Garth School ('Not all tragedies are avoidable', 30 March) perpetuates one of the saddest forms of stigmatisation and prejudice. You suggest that training be provided for teachers and pupils 'in how to respond to muggers, terrorists, hostage-takers and the mentally disturbed (writer's italics).'

Not only is having a mental illness equated with being a highly dangerous criminal, but this point is emphasised in the statement that 'over the past five years, 41 murders in England have been attributed to schizophrenics'. How many murders were there in total? Given that one in a hundred people suffer from schizophrenia, the incidence of schizophrenic murderers, while of concern, is scarcely high enough to single out the person with this illness as a universal bogey man. Would you feel so comfortable making such unqualified statements about the number of black murderers, for instance?

As a consultant psychiatrist and health service manager, my daily work involves countering the fears and stereotypes about mental illness. People with physical disabilities are fighting back against the marginalised status of victim. Many people with long-term mental illness have yet to achieve this: they are perceived not even as victims, but as potential perpetrators of heinous crimes. This compounds the sense of puzzlement and despair many new patients and their families experience.

Yours faithfully,

SANDRA M. GRANT

Clinical Services Manager

Woodilee Hospital

Lenzie, Strathclyde

30 March

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