A violent stigma for mentally ill

From The Irish Times
By Carl O’Brien
Monday, August 24, 2010

John McCarthy via Irish TimesPsychiatric nurses argue that more staff are needed to manage violent patients – but are patients with mental illness any more violent than the rest of the community?

When the union representing psychiatric nurses launched a campaign for extra staff earlier this month, it painted a disturbing and violent portrait of life on the wards of our mental hospitals.

Due largely to hundreds of staff vacancies, the union argued, there has been a sharp increase in assaults on members of staff. It said 1,314 assaults on staff were recorded last year, up from 966 in 2007 and 1,104 in 2008.

On one occasion eight gardaí in riot gear had to come to the assistance of nurses trying to manage a highly aggressive patient at St Brendan’s Hospital in Dublin. In Ennis, it says, a single patient was being managed 24 hours a day by security staff due to a shortage of nurses and secure facilities.

The result, the Psychiatric Nurses Association said, was that patients suffering from depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder were having their recovery threatened by this “frightening and threatening hospital environment”.

The picture depicted by the union, however, has been criticized by some mental health campaigners. John McCarthy, founder of the Mad Pride movement, says the behavior of a small minority of patients has been used to further nurses’ demands for higher staffing levels and better working conditions.

The collateral damage, he says, is that efforts to reduce stigma against people with mental health problems are being undermined.

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