By On September 21st, 2006

Dr. Wayne S. Fenton, The Victim

On September 3rd, Dr. Wayne Fenton, a psychiatrist from Massachusetts, was beaten to death by his 19 year old patient. Vitali A. Davydov, who was severely psychotic and struggling with his mental state was refusing his prescribed medication. While the slaying has upset many mental health professionals, they wonder the risks to themselves and about the danger in allowing patients with severe psychosis to go without medication. However, Mr. Fenton’s death will most likely not affect the usual psychiatric practice but may take note to the long running debate: whether people suffering from psychosis should be compelled to accept treatment to reduce the risk of violent outbursts.

Violence is less common among those with mental illnesses than is sometimes assumed. Many people with schizophrenia are withdrawn, more likely to be targets of an assault than to commit one, said Bruce Link, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia.

But studies suggest that those with untreated psychosis,often characterized by intense paranoia and imaginary voices issuing commands, are at least two to three times as likely as people without mental disorders to get into physical altercations, including fights using weapons, Dr. Link said.

The American Journal of Psychiatry found last month that people with severe mental illness committed about 5 percent of the violent crimes in Sweden, though they made up a small fraction of the population. The United States, which has higher crime rates, has a much smaller proportion of crime attributable to the mentally ill than Sweden, experts said.

New York and California have tightened their treatment laws to compel mental health patients to accept treatment, even those who have not committed a crime.

Will other states accept a change?

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