A new report has found that counter-terrorism police are using claims of mental distress to lock up and intimidate people, writes Isabel Ringrose
Anti-terror police are forcing extremely vulnerable people into mental health units—and disproportionately these people are Muslim.
Through Vulnerability Support Hubs, police are faking accusations about mental health to marginalise, lock away and stigmatise people.
And they are getting away with it by using medical care as an excuse.
This is what a new report by medical charity Medact found.
The report exposes “a disturbing trend in counter-terrorism’s turn to mental health.” It describes how thousands of people suspected of “potential extremism” have been assessed through the Hubs.
It says Vulnerability Support Hubs “blur the boundaries between security and care in ethically problematic ways.”
Those assessed at the hubs have been referred to the racist scheme Prevent if they are suspected by the police of suffering mental distress.
Muslims are disproportionately referred to Prevent—despite some claims that it mostly tackles far right extremism.
According to the report, Muslims are “at least 23 times more likely to be referred to a mental health hub for ‘Islamism’ than a white individual for ‘far right extremism’”.
Prevent claims to act in the interest of public health, because it intervenes before a crime takes place.
But all this does is “turn political issues into individualised mental health problems of particular groups,” the report says.
Mental health professionals are expected to support counter-terrorism officials when they request information. This is then used to pursue convictions—despite Prevent saying it is a pre-crime precaution.
And it is clear the police are finding new ways to criminalise and scapegoat Muslims. The three hubs in London, Birmingham and Manchester are run alongside the biggest counter-terrorism units in England.
In one case in the North Hub, a man with schizophrenia was sectioned after refusing to comply with Prevent’s “deradicalisation” programme, despite the Home Office insisting it’s voluntary. But, due to their secrecy, they have been subject to little scrutiny.
“This lack of transparency is itself a major ethical concern since it severely limits possibilities for proper accountability,” the report says.
According to the report, many of those referred are children—mostly teenagers, with the youngest just six years old.
And only some of those referred to the hubs actually have mental health conditions.
Most of those who do are already in contact with mental health services and have been referred to them. In the North Hub this accounts for 42.6 percent of all referees.
The consequences are low levels of trust in health services, and heightened fear among Muslims when seeking help for their mental health at the risk of being referred to Prevent.
“This is in turn likely to exacerbate racialised health inequalities,” the report explains.
It concludes that Vulnerability Support Hubs should be scrapped “along with the entire prevent programme in healthcare.”
Racism led to unfair treatment
A survey found NHS workers drew on “representations in popular culture” to understand “’extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’ for which they are asked to be vigilant.”
Given the Islamophobia pumped into society, this has lead to the unjust targeting of Muslims.
One person referred on to the scheme was pushed to the Vulnerability Support Hubs following a Prevent referral after “concerns that he had converted to Islam in prison”.
At the North Hub 41.7 percent of referrals were white.
But the combined total referred from different non-white groups was almost equal at 41.2 percent.
This shows that non-white people are disproportionately being referred to the Hubs.
And 48 percent of referees were not born in Britain—demonstrating increased attacks on migrants and refugees.
The report explores how “racism has a long history within psychology and psychiatry.”
And it also finds that minority groups are often disproportionately associated with possible threats.
What’s more, “this perception is highly likely to be compounded when racialised individuals experience mental ill health.”
So black people, the report says, are three times more likely to be diagnosed by the NHS with schizophrenia than average—and are more likely to be sectioned when they are.
Confidentiality was ignored
Confidentiality is supposedly a central principle in healthcare. But, the report explains, Prevent is eroding the expectation of confidentiality.
The police deny sharing “health or police-related information unless it is judged necessary and appropriate to safeguard the individual or protect others from harm”.
Yet a key purpose of the Hubs is to support police “in liaising effectively with health services to seek and share information”.
This, according to Hub documents, is actually protecting police and health workers from breaching confidentiality laws.
So provision was made to sidestep legislation.
But the report says “this is healthcare aiding prosecution, not meeting mental health needs”.
And the Hubs documents reveal how the police built the programme on unreliable assumptions between mental health and terrorism.
Despite claims that there is a link between terrorism and mental health, the report finds there is limited evidence to support this conclusion.
Service faces no scrutiny
The report that scrutinises the Vulnerability Support Service found that the counter-terrorism police unsurprisingly “strenuously resisted disclosing” documents.
Counter-terrorism police can impact treatment by influencing how referees are medicated. And they push NHS mental health professionals to perform surveillance functions.
One man was diagnosed with schizophrenia after being perceived to be “acting in an odd manner” by police because he regularly visited London landmarks.
Another individual “failed to engage on numerous occasions” with the programme. After being sectioned, treated and discharged, the man was suddenly “willing to engage”.
The report says “this raises serious concerns about possible coercion and the potential use of psychiatry to facilitate cooperation with police.”
To put it another way—cops can use the threat of sectioning someone to make them comply.
Another person was diagnosed with schizophrenia “became more stable on his medication”. But this was only after intervention by counter-terrorism police following “vague security concerns”.
According to the report there have been no ethical guidelines developed for the Hubs in the five years they have been in operation.
This means the rollout is “without any clear evidence of the scheme’s impact on the individuals referred”, the report warns.
Case studies reveal mental health assessments carried out by Hub staff often happen with a Prevent officer or cops present.
Hub documents praise this as a “good example of collaborative working”. According to Medact, “this is potentially highly problematic”.
It says a police presence not only delays recovery, but can worsen someone’s condition whether they need assistance or not.