A CONFERENCE organised by students to look at mental health issues attracted some high quality speakers.
Mental Health: A Public Health Concern? was put together by level five students on the BSc Public Health course offered by the Isle of Man College.
It was held at Elmwood House, in Glencrutchery Road, Douglas, and speakers included Inspector Mark Britton, Elaine Haynes, secretary of the Service Users Network, director of public health Dr Parameswaran Kishore, Steve Chell, assistant director of social services (mental health), Julie Bennion, specialist in mental health promotion, social worker Adrian Key and IoM College principal Professor Ronald Barr.
The conference was opened by Education and Children Minister Eddie Teare MHK who said: ‘Mental health is a very sensitive illness and there is very little appreciation of its effects in the wider community.’
He said that through the work of high quality professionals people with mental ill health would receive the best kind of treatment. Mr Teare wished the students who organised the conference luck in their studies.
Inspector Britton, who spent a year as the police’s mental health liaison officer, spoke about the police’s role in dealing with people who have mental health problems.
He called the police force ‘the first resort for people’s last resort’.
Inspector Britton said officers work under an out of date law, the Mental Health Act 1998.
He said in particular it does not refer to the way in which the police should deal with autistic people and does not allow them to remove a person who is not sectioned from one place of safety to another. On the latter point, he said if someone was in mental distress in a public place, police can arrest them under section 132 of the act to ensure they get the help they need or protect other members of the public.
But if someone, for instance, was at home in clear distress, the police do not have a right to arrest them and deal with them in an appropriate way.
He said a lot of police time and resources were spent on dealing with people who had mental health problems.
‘I can’t quantify it, if I sat down and quantified it I think I would scare myself,’ said Inspector Britton.
Attitudes in the island have changed over the years, said Inspector Britton, but there are still some people who do not understand mental health issues and remember the old days of ‘being sent to Ballamona’.
He also said that the full picture of the island’s mental health was not available. For instance, suicide figures were not recorded.
And he added that resources to deal with mental health issues were inadequate at the weekends, whereas they were good during the working week. Inspector Britton said problems were often more acute at the weekend as people indulge more in drink and drugs.
Mrs Haynes spoke about the work of SUN and explained how she became involved with the group as it was being set up.
Explaining SUN’s role in advocating for service users and combating stigma, she said one in four people would experience mental health problems in their lifetime.
‘Mental illness is an illness and requires treatment as any illness does,’ she said. ‘It is not the sign of weakness many people believe it is.