Mental health issues are some of the most common reasons people find themselves in the criminal justice system. There is very often a grey area surrounding how ill you have to be for medical intervention and this results in many falling between the cracks because they are just not ‘ill enough’. At Shentons we frequently deal with vulnerable clients with mental health difficulties and as such many of our fee earners have had specialist training in this area. Our mental health specialist Harriet Parker (Criminal Solicitor) spent two days in London at the Law Society extending her knowledge with Mental Health First Aid England.
Here Harriet Parker gives us her insight into this problem
“Have you ever considered how lucky you are to have good health; does this ever extend so far as your mental health? The criminal justice system brings people from all walks of life to the doors of Shentons. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. They are frequently perceived as ‘different’, ‘odd’ or ‘unusual’, but having spent time getting to know numerous clients with mental health difficulties they are just that…people, like everyone else.
Mental health difficulties present themselves with hundreds of different symptoms and affect all walks of life. Sadly a very high percentage of the people I deal with at the police station and court suffer from a vast variety of mental health conditions, such as Schizophrenia, psychosis, Bipolar, Personality Disorder, OCD, depression, anxiety – the list is endless.
I recently had the opportunity to train with Mental Health First Aid England in London at the Law Society. I already had a good foundation of mental health knowledge, but this allowed me to take a step back and look afresh at those people suffering from mental health problems. It is all too easy to be impatient or cast a view on someone because of what they say or how they behave. However, this training allowed me to see mental health issues with ‘new eyes’ and assess why someone may present in different ways. Clients with mental health problems are often terrified of the situation they find themselves in, but frequently are unable to articulate this.
Shentons previously had a long standing client (we’ll call him ‘Daniel’) who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. The client struggled immensely with this label. Schizophrenia strikes fear into the heart of the public, the condition is frequently hyped in the Media, who refer to violent schizophrenics whose actions grab the headlines. The reality is that it is far more likely that an individual with mental health problems will hurt themselves rather than hurt anyone else. Moreover, a condition such as schizophrenia can be managed quite effectively in the community with the correct treatment.
Have you ever tried having a conversation with someone whilst a child is trying to grab a parent’s attention in one ear? It is near on impossible to stay focused and listen to what someone is saying when the child is talking in the other ear. Put yourself in the same position as Daniel, trying to remain focused in a formal Court setting, whilst due to mental health issues three other voices were talking to him at the same time.
These voices spoke so strongly to Daniel, they told him not to live at his home. It resulted in him sleeping rough for a week until he came to us at Shentons. We spent theextra time needed with him to work out what had happened and to get him back safely into his property. He wasn’t able to process what he needed to do as his mental issues had completelytaken hold of him. We took on the fight for him because he wasn’t able to.
When I am taking a client’s instructions and advising them I’m not just listening to what they are saying. I look at how they present, their body language, and most importantly their understanding of my advice. A look, a glance or a posture can give so much more away about how a person is dealing with a situation and their understanding of what is happening.
At Shentons we specialise with dealing with clients with vulnerabilities, and pride ourselves on going the extra mile for our clients. Any Court process is a daunting one for any individual, but layer this with the added difficulty of a mental health condition it can become overwhelming. If you or anyone you know needs assistance at the police station or court, do not hesitate to call us.”