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I can do that!

Byline: By Desi Gillespie

The most neglected and misunderstood area of disability is that of mental ill health. Physical impairment is usually visible. Learning disability is at least understood, but mental illness is still largely ignored or even feared. It is the one area that people don't want to talk about. When it is talked about the language used is mainly derogatory. `Nutters', `loonies' and `mad' are the words that society typically uses when it discusses the issue.

There is good reason why we should seek to understand, rather than dismiss those who have mental illness, which can range from a mild reactive depression through to the most severe forms of schizophrenia. It is always good news when someone is doing just that and is addressing the issue of mental health with awareness and understanding, instead of fear and intolerance.

The good news this week comes from Northumbria Police, especially its Community Protection Unit, a group about which I have written before in this column. The unit has recruited its first Mental Health Liaison Officer, Sergeant Jon Dowd.

Northumbria Police has based its approach to mental health on an American model, called Crisis Intervention Training and indeed the local force was the first in this country to introduce a training programme for its officers, a programme of mental health awareness. The scheme has an added importance for disabled people as disability and mental ill health are often associated. Such a scheme can only have positive results for all disabled people.

I met recently with Sgt Jon Dowd and his colleague, Sgt Pam Bridges. They have a strong belief in what they are doing, which makes a change from the many people that I meet who have job titles relating to equality and diversity but who only last until the next job comes along. Jon's role is supported by a strong faith that he can make a difference. He is committed to his task and I believe his appointment will make a difference.

We read all the time in our papers about the failures of `care in the community' policies when a person with a mental health difficulty is "released" from hospital, fails to take his or her medication and ends up being involved in a violent incident. In fact, such cases are rare, much rarer than the tabloid press would have us believe. However, the press coverage raises fears among the public at large and stereotypes those with a mental illness of any kind as dangerous. The pressure, then, is on the police as our protectors to do just that, protect us. Programmes such as the one promoted by Jon Dowd and sponsored by Northumbria Police will help to overcome the general ignorance concerning the issue.

NIf you feel that there is a matter relating to mental health and policing which worries or concerns you, contact Jon and he will try to help. His phone number is (01661) 868499. On mental health matters his message is be aware, NOT beware.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 3, 2004
Words:500
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