Taking care to take care in the community
People-watching the other morning, my thoughts turned to John Major. Remember his stint in Downing Street?
Course you do. Back-to-basics. Edwina Currie wrecking breakfast. Fat envelopes for Ministers of the Crown. Black Wednesday. Care in the Community.
It was a visible aftermath of this latter legislation – drafted in the dog-days of Thatcher, enacted 1993 – which brought Major to mind. Wee chap plodding along Friargate, to be specific. A hard-worn 60 years of age, give or take, so plenty old enough to have had his life changed beyond recognition by said Act.
How do I mean?
I mean all at once he comes to a dead halt, drops his little shopping bag, clasps his hands to his ears and begins moaning softly. Moans which in an instant became screams, then babbling, then roars until, finally, he began flailing his arms. Defensive movements, warding off things unseen, rather than aggressive, it must be said – but extravagant, nonetheless.
Everyone in the vicinity froze. Maybe 40 pedestrians, stock-still, all staring at one poor beleaguered bloke going doolally.
An eerie scene, as you can imagine, but one which did not endure. The onlookers simply weighed-up the situation – is there danger here – then calmly resumed their business.
And of course, in a sense, nothing WAS happening. Nothing out of the ordinary, at any rate. Not since NHS mental institutions were wound down and their patients swept on to the streets in the name of integration. Explosive public outbursts like that outlined, episodes which in 1990 or 1992 might have provoked alarm or gawping, now elicit next to no response bar reflex caution.
Integration through indifference, you could say. Meaning, I suppose, that Care in the Community has kind of worked out okay. Well, at least it has for us.
Obviously, those with profound mental health issues might beg to differ (such as our Friargate friend, who abruptly regained his composure, stumped along another 200 yards, then enacted the whole routine once more), particularly the untold thousands isolated and lacking the support they need to manage their medication, for example, or those languishing in our new bedlams (Britain’s disgraceful prisons). A Major problem..