2 Extract 2: Whose risk is it anyway?
Western society is increasingly preoccupied with concerns about risk, so much so that some sociologists now define it as ‘risk society’ (Beck, 1992). It is argued that people in general are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety in response to rapid technological and social change. News stories in the media are filled with warnings and dire predictions for the future. This is particularly true when the potential consequences appear to be both catastrophic and difficult to predict, such as nuclear accidents, BSE (‘mad cow disease’), and so on. Intense pressure is exerted on politicians and others, particularly through the media, to prevent disasters and take the blame when they occur. As one commentator puts it, ‘Safety has become the fundamental value of the 1990s’ (Furedi, 1998, p. 1).
Risk has certainly become a central concept in mental health policies and practice, particularly since the implementation of community care in the early 1990s. Community care policies have been highlighted both by the media and by government as a failure, partly because they have failed to provide service users/survivors with the support they need in the community. However, they are also regarded as a failure because of the perception that they have led to an increased risk of violence by people experiencing mental health problems. The focus has been on homicide in particular. It is important to emphasise that this is a perception rather than a fact, because research evidence strongly suggests that there has not been an increase in homicides by people experiencing mental health problems. In this extract you will critically examine the way risk has become a central concept in mental health policy. You will explore why this may have happened and the impact it has on the experiences of service users/survivors and on professional practice.
The next section addresses the way risk is defined, and highlights the fact that risk is a problematic concept. The extract then moves on to explore the concept of risk in mental health policies. It also looks at the impact of the new ‘culture of risk’ on both service users/survivors and mental health professionals.