Tuesday 11 December 2012

Crime-Fighting Dentist

People with a serious mental illness are frequently victims of crime on the streets of Wales for a host of reasons:-

• Bullies who know about their illness may pick on them as easy targets

• Thieves may similarly mark them down as targets

• The stigma of mental illness can lead to hostility based on irrational fears

• Odd behaviour - talking to oneself, involuntary movements and facial expressions (often the result of medication) - can draw unwelcome attention

• If patients are "ungrounded" or over-confident (for example when on a "high") they may make poor judgements when communicating with strangers

• Genuine misunderstandings can occur if somebody is suffering illusions - not that this excuses a criminal response

• Homeless people - many of whom have a mental illness - are disproportionately exposed to crime

Sadly a high proportion of patients and their carers have stories about low level assaults and occasionally about much nastier events. For this reason we should take a lively interest in schemes to reduce violence on our streets and in that spirit we should celebrate the work of Professor Jonathan Shepherd of Cardiff University who is making a name for himself in this field. Today it is widely reported that the authorities in Amsterdam have beaten a path to his door to find out how to reduce the effects of violence in the Dutch capital.

So is Prof Shepherd a criminologist or high-tech security expert? Indeed not - he is actually a dentist. But we shouldn't be so surprised as it is dentists who see the results of all too many violent assaults where teeth, jaws and mouths are so often damaged. The professor's brain-wave was to suggest looking into where his patients got hurt in the first instance (these assaults are often not reported) and share that with the police and others so that the problem can be addressed in an intelligent, targeted way. This approach has already been taken up across England and Wales.

The results are impressive. See the story here and the professor's web page here: note that he has got the psychiatrists and psychologists aboard his team too.