Tech & Rights

Czech Plan for Database of the Mentally Ill Meets Resistance

The Czech health minister plans to establish a register of the mentally ill, a populist step that does not help anyone, according to doctors and lawyers.

by The League of Human Rights
Image: World Bank - Flickr/CC Content

Mentally disturbed people must be strictly supervised, says Svatopluk Němeček, the Czech Republic's minister of health. Because of this, he wants to establish a special electronic register and require physicians to add to it all mentally ill patients. One visit to the psychiatrist's office would be enough to make it into the database.

The minister says he wants to prevent tragedies where mentally ill people attack others, like the recent incidents in a school and a library, both of which resulted in deaths.

Will people still visit psychiatrists?

Minister Němeček's statement raised a great commotion—not only among doctors, but also lawyers.

"[This plan] is absolute nonsense. We see this as a populist and unprofessional step, the only reason for which is to disguise the fact that the ministry has not been able to carry out any systematic steps," was the angry reaction of one National Institute of Mental Health representative.

Entering people into registers, according to him, won't solve any problem. In fact, it will do the opposite: people will prefer to stop going to the psychiatrists altogether to avoid being added to the list, and psychiatrists will have no means to force them into treatment.

A similar reaction came from the vice president to the Psychiatric Association: "I certainly would not agree [with the plan]. It could harm a lot of people," he said.

Normal lives

According to a lawyer for League of Human Rights, the vast majority of psychiatric patients are completely stabilized: "These people lead completely normal lives. They work and raise their children well and many are very successful."

The supervisor of the League of Human Rights therefore considers the proposal to create lists of potentially dangerous people a witch-hunt, not an effective solution. "Firstly, it is hard to imagine on what basis would people get on the list, plus more stigma would discourage even more patients from seeking professional help," she explained.

She also pointed out that the collection of sensitive data in the register is a violation of medical confidentiality and personal rights of the persons. "Most of those people have never committed any criminal offense and would be on the list only because of their diagnosis," she said.

According to the experts, the Ministry of Health should be addressing the planned reform of the psychiatric care and bring it to a successful end. The reform is intended to bring patients into communities that will work with them on a daily basis and the treatment will be controlled in a natural way.

Two attacks in six months

Minister Němeček mentioned the introduction of the register after two cases of a mentally ill patient killing another person occurred in the Czech Republic in the span of half a year.

A month ago, a young librarian was stabbed in the back by a man released from a psychiatric clinic, and last autumn, students at a business academy were attacked by a woman with schizophrenia and a 16-year-old student was killed.

According to the minister, it is therefore time to address the situation with a register. But the question remains whether this solution an appropriate one.

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