Health issue that's tragically neglected

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am


When tragedies involving mental patients attacking family members and strangers become regular occurrences, questions have to be asked whether our society is giving sufficient attention to the problem. Last week a man with a mental condition killed his wife and seriously injured three family members before jumping to his death from a Kwun Tong flat. This was the second attack by a mental patient in three months. In addition to sympathy and condolences, serious thought on how to avoid such sad events are urgently needed.

Media reports suggest the 53-year-old man had skipped medical consultations since last July. Medical staff only managed to contact him in December after he failed to turn up for his September appointment. Since he refused treatment again, apparently no follow-up action was taken. Whether a more proactive approach could have prevented the attack and suicide is pure speculation now. But that mental patients are allowed to escape treatment and put themselves and others at risk is disturbing.

The idea of compulsory treatment was proposed by the Hospital Authority two years ago in the wake of a fatal attack in Kwai Chung. But little progress has been made. Sadly, it took another tragedy to renew a wider debate on whether this should be the way forward. The proposed Community Treatment Order empowers police and doctors to impose treatment on high-risk mental patients.

It has long been adopted in the US, Britain and Canada. But the proposal involves sensitive issues like personal freedom and privacy. It can only be introduced when there is broad public consensus. Safeguards are also needed to avoid abuses.

It can be argued that strengthening mental health care is useless if patients can shun the treatment they need. More effective measures have to be considered. A thorough debate is a good start.