NIMBY syndrome and public consultation policy: the implications of a discourse analysis of local responses to the establishment of a community mental health facility
The relocation of mental health services from an institutional to community base in different parts of the UK has witnessed incidents of public opposition in relation to the establishment of community mental health projects. It has been argued that this not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) syndrome is partly a result of the attitudes held by the public towards people with mental health problems. The present paper reports some findings from a study of community attitudes towards individuals with mental health problems in a Scottish community, and discusses their implications for the development of public consultation guidelines with respect to the establishment of community mental health facilities. Discourse analysis was used to explore people's views about individuals with mental health problems. The study examined the ways in which their views were expressed in letters to the local press, and in subsequent discussions and interviews, when arguing for or against a supported accommodation project in their neighbourhood. Participants formulated their arguments around a number of issues which they claimed were of public concern. One of these related to the way in which the project was set up. In particular, participants argued that it had been established without any prior consultation with local people and in circumstances of secrecy. The findings demonstrate that, while consultation is relatively unproblematically defined in terms of its function, the specific nature of consultation is more problematic. The implications of these findings for mental health policy and practice are considered in the light of current official guidelines on public consultation relating to the establishment of community mental health facilities. It is argued that existing guidelines fail to take account of the concerns of local people, and therefore, that any intervention based on such guidelines is likely to be ineffective. It is suggested that the findings of this study will be of interest to policy makers and practitioners seeking to devise future public consultation strategies.