Public Health Ethics 11 (2):165-178 (2018)

This article positions ‘safety’ and ‘risk’ as key public health problems in mental health. I demonstrate that discourse about safety occurs extensively in relation to mental health, but it does not occur in a way where the mental health system gets any safer for the key actors involved. Ongoing unproductive discourse occurs because the different actors involved are speaking at cross purposes and about different things against the background of a ‘public’ discourse focused on safety crises. I map the general interests of the main set of actors to demonstrate the conflicted and complex nature of discourse around mental health safety. In response I outline a dialogical approach to safety and risk based on the work of Habermas and values of recovery. This is presented as a framework from which to assess whether discourse is occurring effectively to develop shared meanings. Shared understandings of safety will mean that the safety needs of relevant actors can be understood and negotiated rather than giving way to an actuarial process which does not take into consideration the context of a person’s life.
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DOI 10.1093/phe/phx023
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