Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Mental Health Provision - An Unnecessary Death

"Did my sick husband have to die in jail?"

This was the headline above an article in Sunday's Observer which described the tragic suicide of Alan Mullin in prison. Alan was mentally ill and should have been in hospital but was in prison where he committed suicide some days after being taken off suicide watch.

This post gives a shortened version of the background to his death which stands as a symbol of
the shabby treatment of the mentally ill.

In the early 2000s Alan was diagnosed as bipolar but, subsequently, he stopped his medication and his condition worsened. Whilst in his local mental health hospital (early 2005) he tried to cut his throat and later, in desperation, his wife asked that he be sectioned only to be told that he was still being assessed.

In February, once back home, he suffered from delusions again, cut himself again, locked the backdoor
to prevent a gunman entering the house and shooting him in the back of the head and sat on the kitchen floor reciting verses from the Bible. Despite this his wife managed to get him into a bath although, to pacify him, she agreed to his request to drink his blood.

In case he could overhear she didn't phone the police but went to the nearest police station and asked for help to get him into hospital. Everything started to go wrong now. The police misunderstood her request and turned up with 15 police, 5 in riot gear, a negotiator and police dogs. What should have ended quietly ended only after a 5 hour siege.

Of course , he didn't end up in hospital but in prison having been remanded in custody for 30 days. After his week's suicide watch he returned to a normal cell but he continued talking about killing himself.

On March 9 he hanged himself whilst alone in his cell.

A tragic and unnecessary death.

Alan's death would be tragic enough were he the only mentally ill patient to die in prison but sadly he is only one of many.

Why, why do we keep sending the mentally ill to prison?

Are there insufficient resources within the NHS?

Why are there insufficient resources?

Is mental health not "sexy" enough; are there not enough votes in it?

Does no-one in power care?

Well you bloody well should care!

I CARE!!!!


  1. Great post. This is absolutely appalling and I agree with everything you say. Thank you for highlighting the issue.

  2. WL

    Thank you for your kind words here and on my "Intermittent Posting" post.

    My heart lifted as I read your comments!!


  3. No Calum, they don't give a toss. At all. That's the nature of things.

  4. "Alan's death would be tragic enough were he the only mentally ill patient to die in prison but sadly he is only one of many.
    Why, why do we keep sending the mentally ill to prison?"

    Alan's death was indeed a tragedy, could it have happened anyway? Probably. People that want to end their lives usually win in the end.

    Is this a common problem or are the other mentally ill in prison actual criminals?

  5. LN:

    I oontinue to take a different line.

    If I understand your position correctly, you say that if a mentally ill person has committed a crime they deserve to be in prison.

    I say that a mentally ill person should NOT be in prison regardless of their crime. They should be treated for their illness in a medical institution with the appropriate security.

    Those who have tried to commit suicide may eventually succeed. You may be right there but we shouldn't make it easier for them by shutting them up in the harsh conditions of prison where they do not have adequate supervision and treatment.

    Also there are those in prison who are not criminals e.g. Alan. He was on remand but was not a convicted criminal. He had not committed any "crime" until the police arrived and went in heavy-handed.

    I suppose my bottom line is that any one with a mental illness should have their illness treated in a medical insitution and not in prison whether or not they have committed a crime.

    Prison is not an appropriate place for those with mental illness.

  6. Actually I was only asking a question :)

    But now I have another for you: After the medical institute has 'cleared' said criminal mental patient, what do you do then? Do you let them go, writing off their crime (no matter what it was) because of their possible incapacity?

    (these are questions, as the other was, I wasn't making a pitch to my or any pov :)

  7. A war veteran here in Minnesota recently died (suicide) because the mental health facilities wouldn't care for him...

    Providing for the extremely mentally ill is so important.

  8. I don't know what it's like in the USA, Lord Nazh and Ruthie, but here in the UK there are certainly a very large number of people in prison who everyone agrees should, in fact, be in mental hospitals, but are in prison because there's no room for them, or because every mental hospital that's asked agrees the chap needs treatment but it's not really our specialism (translation, usually = 'we think he'll be a nuisance').

    Lord Nazh asks, 'are the other mentally ill in prison actual criminals?' Normally yes, in the sense that their mental illness has led them to commit repeated low-level crimes -- anti-social behaviour more than anything else -- and their chaotic life-style means that community punishments aren't possible.

    Though, having said that, there was one poor young man whose case became an absolute nightmare at the court where I usually work. He and another guy had got into a fight. Can't remember what happened to the other guy -- fine and community service, I think. This guy wanted to plead guilty, but he was clearly unfit to plead.

    Only place that could take him was the hospital wing of the local prison, where he spent over a year while everyone tried to find a mental hospital for him. The prison hospital did the best they could for him, but that's really not what they're equipped for. And his condition just deteriorated constantly.

    By the time the poor man was finally admitted to a hospital he was a dreadful state, and spent far longer in prison than he could possibly have been sentenced to if he'd been allowed to plead.

  9. This is mind-blowing! What a way to allocate resources! There has been no assessment of need or benefit just a straightforward rejection because we think we need much more help. The NHS is saying to us,"We'll not give you a little help because you think you need a lot of help and you'll be disappointed with a little help".

    Minnesota Drug Addiction