Alexander Blackman’s mental state contributed to him shooting dead an injured Taliban fighter – but we must still uphold international law
When justice is done, we should be glad. But the champagne-swigging jubilation that greeted the reduction of “Marine A” Alexander Blackman’s murder conviction to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, went far beyond the acknowledgment that this was an appropriate outcome. To many of his supporters he is a “hero soldier” persecuted for shooting dead an injured Taliban fighter in Afghanistan. The judgment, however, was no exoneration: he killed a defenceless man, tried to make sure it was not witnessed, and attempted to cover up what he did. The judges considered mitigating factors, including his combat stress disorder. Nonetheless, they concluded that his crime was a severe one, that he held substantial responsibility for it, and that his dismissal from service was justified.
Drum-beating coverage of “our brave boys” veils the fact that British troops, like any others, are capable of terrible violations of the laws of war and the dictates of basic decency. Perhaps the catastrophe of Iraq, and the consciousness of the toll it took overwhelmingly on Iraqi civilians but also on coalition forces, has sensitised the public to the immense pressures facing soldiers and the often limited support they receive. More often than not, such abuses occur when there is an absence or failure of leadership. Another marine – briefly Blackman’s commanding officer – described the leadership and oversight in place as shockingly bad, and insisted he was not a single rotten apple. The answer is not to give soldiers a free pass to abuse and kill by attacking attempts to hold them to account, but to ask who else is responsible and how such behaviour can be prevented in future.
Among other weighty events on Wednesday, there is a chink of light that could transform the lives of thousands of people with learning disabilities, needlessly stuck in mental health institutions away from homes, families and communities. On Wednesday, the public affairs committee will hear from Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, and others, on reducing the number of people with learning disabilities in mental health hospitals to improve their quality of life. As a psychiatrist, I see many patients parked in hospital wards with years of their lives just rolling past. While the government’s target is to close 1,300 beds by 2019, only 60 beds have been closed so far.
Institutionalisation of this group of people in chaotic and turbulent hospitals for months, often years, on end can be devastating for their wellbeing. Yet this continues. Over 2,500 inpatients with learning disabilities remain in hospital, despite government commitment for them to have “the right to the same opportunities as anyone else to live satisfying and valued lives, and to be treated with dignity and respect … have a home within their community, be able to develop and maintain relationships, and get the support they need to live healthy, safe and rewarding lives”.
Yet again, we have a justice secretary demonstrating contempt for both experts and any other commentators who know what they are talking about over prisons and prison policy (Truss to announce four new supersized jails, 22 March). Titan prisons, first so dubbed by then justice secretary Jack Straw (no party political point, this), are the very reverse of the way forward.
Alan Travis rightly cites Lord Woolf in his seminal 1990 report and Peter Dawson of the Prison Reform Trust. This time even the Labour opposition has it right: shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon identified the blindingly obvious truth that larger prisons alone merely demonstrate an ever-greater capacity to shrug off the crying need for a drastic reduction in prison numbers. Locking up ever more of our on the whole non-violent, inadequate, disturbed and disadvantaged population is a non-policy of “out of sight, out of mind”. The damage to the very fabric of our society stares us practitioners in the face every single day.
Four in five 12- to 16-year-olds experience ‘emotional distress’
The vast majority of teenagers say they experience “emotional distress” after starting secondary school but claim teachers don’t have the skills to help them, research has found.
Four in every five 12- to 16-year-olds in the survey said they felt they had mental health problems but just one in 20 would turn to a teacher for help if they felt depressed, anxious, stressed or emotionally unable to cope.
More than 500 teenagers take part in event, which aims to raise awareness and help remove the stigma surrounding issue
“Talking about mental health does not make you weak,” the world’s largest mental health lesson has been told. Til Wykes, a clinical psychologist, told an audience of more than 500 13-18-year-olds from around the country: “We want to get people to come to treatment early because if they come early, they recover faster and they recover better.”
The event on Tuesday at Hackney Empire in east London, compered by the 4Music presenter Maya Jama, was designed to teach children and young people about what mental health is, how to protect it and deal with problems when they arise. Officially recognised as the Guinness World Record for the largest-ever mental health lesson, with 538 young people present, the hope is that it also raises general awareness about the issue among young people and helps combat the stigma surrounding it.
Related: UK’s first Muslim astronaut aims to put focus on mental health
Trees and green spaces are unrecognised healers offering benefits from increases in mental wellbeing to allergy reductions, says report
People living close to trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive, or dependent on anti-depressants, according to a new report.
Middle-aged Scottish men with homes in deprived but verdant areas were found to have a death rate 16% lower than their more urban counterparts. Pregnant women also received a health boost from a greener environment, recording lower blood pressures and giving birth to larger babies, research in Bradford found.
Related: Wild things: how ditching the classroom boosts children’s mental health
Research reveals that some think social workers are there to pop to the shops for you. It’s time to restore some prestige
About three in every 10 people in Britain think social workers help with household chores like cooking and cleaning, with personal care like washing and dressing, and with childcare. Two in 10 reckon they will nip to the shops for you. Asked to choose from a given list of professionals they consider important providers of mental health support, 69% of people identify psychiatrists and 65% GPs – but only 41% pick social workers.
Related: The secret life of a social worker: you just have to get used to letting people down | Anonymous
Related: Social care is in desperate need of a champion | David Brindle
With suicide such a problem among young men, it’s time to dismantle the stereotype that men must cling to our pints like torches in the labyrinthø
Let’s be honest with each other, lads – and by lads I mean everyone who is reading this article, regardless of gender but still being called a lad by me, because I’m setting up a question in the next sentence that is primarily aimed at a gender often referred to in the UK as “lads”. How many times do you hang out with your mates in a group when you’re not drinking?
Well there’s midweek five-a-side isn’t there, with all the seething heat of competition, thinly veiled ignominy of loss and anywhere between eight and 16 scything, ligament-jarring tackles a game that it brings. Or there’s just hanging out playing PlayStation, with all the seething heat of competition, thinly veiled ignominy of loss and so on and so forth.
Figures for deaths in England suggest highest risk among women is for those employed in culture, media and sport
Men working in the construction industry and women employed in culture, media and sport, healthcare and primary school teaching are at the highest risk of suicide, official figures for England suggest.
Related: Strong link between disadvantage and suicide, says Samaritans
Letter from finance chief Paul Baumann says contingency of £800m will be used to offset hospital overspends
Ministers have been accused of breaking their promises on mental health after £800m earmarked to improve services was diverted to shore up hospitals’ finances.
A leading mental health charity and the Labour party said redirecting the money would hit patient care and hinder the drive, backed by Theresa May, to improve care for people with serious mental health problems.
Select committee also calls for news media to stop raising awareness of methods, which puts vulnerable people at risk
Greater restrictions should be placed on the portrayal of suicide in TV dramas to prevent encouraging copycats, say MPs.
In a report on the government’s suicide prevention strategy, the House of Commons health select committee, chaired by the Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston, raises fears that irresponsible media coverage has a damaging effect on vulnerable people.
Related: After my suicide crisis I set up a centre to give others a safety net | Joy Hibbins
Creator of the Sesame approach to drama and movement in therapy
Marian “Billy” Lindkvist, who has died aged 97, was a pioneer in the use of drama and movement in therapy. The method she created, known as the Sesame approach, involves the use of touch, story enactment, improvisation and non-verbal communication to help people with various cognitive and mental health conditions.
Developed by Billy in the 1960s in conjunction with sympathetic actors and health professionals, Sesame acquired its own institute in 1971, responsible over the years for training hundreds of people in its disciplines, which have been successfully taken into hospitals, day centres and community settings. Billy was for many years director of the Sesame Institute in London, as well as a teacher on its course, which evolved into the MA in drama and movement therapy currently taught at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
Retailer to host fortnightly ‘Frazzled Cafes’ in 11 stores at which people can share their stories
Marks & Spencer is to host mental health drop-ins in its store cafes as part of an initiative designed to soothe stressed shoppers.
The Frazzled Cafe project is fronted by the comedian and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax. The fortnightly sessions, which will be hosted by trained volunteers in restaurants that have closed for the day, will initially be held in 11 stores with more locations to be added in the coming months. The branches taking part include three in London as well as outlets in Nottingham, Leeds and Newcastle.
Related: M&S enjoys cracking Christmas as clothing sales rise
There’s a furore over how much he’s played in his first few weeks as president. But evidence shows that being outdoors could be the best way for him to stay calm and sane
Scrolling through Twitter last night, I wondered why I felt so well. Not smug, just mystified by a mental and physical glow that made me strangely impervious to the toxic aspects of social media.
Related: Warning: living in a city could seriously damage your health | Florence Williams
Sergeant and two detention officers found not guilty over death of Orchard after he was restrained at Exeter police station
Three Devon and Cornwall police staff have been cleared by a jury at Bristol crown court of the manslaughter of a man with mental health issues who collapsed while in custody after a heavy webbing belt was placed around his face.
Thomas Orchard suffered a cardiac arrest and brain damage after the belt was held across his face for more than five minutes.
Related: ‘He was really really let down’: Thomas Orchard’s family speak out