Mental Health Discrimination Bill moves step closer

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A bill proposed by Tory backbencher and Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell which would outlaw certain forms of mental health discrimination passed through its second reading in the House of Commons last Friday – 14 September 2012. If passed, the bill will repeal legislative provisions that can prevent people with mental health conditions from serving as Members of Parliament, members of the devolved legislatures, jurors, or company directors.

Mr Barwell said:

“My Bill’s purpose is very simple: to tackle the last legal form of discrimination in our society.

“To our shame the law of the land still discriminates against those with a mental health condition. An MP or a company director can be removed from their job because of mental ill health even if they go on to make a full recovery. Many people who are fully capable of performing jury service are ineligible to do so.

“The law as it stands sends out a clear message that if someone has a mental health condition, their contribution to public life is not welcome. That is an affront to a decent civilised society.”

Shadow Health Minister Diane Abbott gave Labour’s support to the legislation, telling MPs:

“Mental health is probably the last remaining great area of stigma in public life. It is striking that there were MPs willing to come out about their sexuality before you could find MPs willing to come out about their mental health challenges. It speaks to the level of stigma.”

Whilst Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said:

“The Government is doing a huge amount to try and remove some of the stigma surrounding mental illness, and I am delighted to be able to support this private member’s bill, which addresses a problem in the House of Commons – my own workplace.

“It’s ludicrous in this day and age that a person can’t contribute to public life if they’ve had issues with their mental health.

“Discrimination like this has no place in modern society and it is right that these rules are repealed.”

Both the Government and Labour front benches have given their support to the Bill, which has been praised on all sides for going some way to breaking down the stigma associated with mental health. Throughout the debates in the Commons some MPs revealed they had faced mental health problems, including Labour MP Kevan Jones who admitted battling depression and Tory MP Charles Walker who has suffered with Obsessive Compulsive Order for the last 31 years.

On speaking out Walker commented:

“What was totally overwhelming actually was the fact that when you’re sitting in a studio waiting to be interviewed you’d have the people doing the make-up say, my husband, my son, my father, suffers from mental health problems, thank you.

“And then you’d go through to the next level and meet the producer and the producer would quietly say I’ve suffered from mental health problems for a number of years, thank you for giving me a voice.”

The Bill now faces the committee stage before it returns to the Commons for a final vote, expected early in 2013. It has been backed by mental health charities and the Royal College of Physicians, and builds on the work of Lord Stevenson of Coddenham, who launched a similar bill in the House of Lords which aims to make provision about discrimination against people on the grounds of their mental health.

Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, commented:

“We are absolutely delighted that MPs have taken action to scrap these outdated, deeply unfair rules. This Bill sends a clear message that people with mental health problems can and should be able to fully contribute to society on an equal footing to everyone else. It’s absurd that capable, intelligent people are being excluded from key aspects of citizenship, based purely on the fact they have an illness. People with physical illnesses such as cancer would never be treated in this way, and it’s great to see politicians from all parties joining together get rid of these discriminatory laws.”

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