In a letter published in The Times, charities Rethink Mental Illness and Mind, along with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, are calling on MPs to back the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill.
If voted through, it will put an end to archaic laws that interfere with the rights of people with mental health problems from participating in jury service and becoming or remaining a company director. The law also currently stipulates that MPs themselves will lose their seats if sectioned under the Mental Health Act, regardless of recovery.
Campaigners are hoping for a good turn out of MPs to show the strength of enthusiastic cross-party support for the bill.
Paul Jenkins, CEO of the charity, Rethink Mental Illness, said:
“It was fantastic to see so many MPs speaking out about their own experiences of mental health problems when the Bill was first introduced in June. The outpouring of support they received really highlighted just how far we’ve come in terms of breaking down the stigma which surrounds mental illness. I hope MPs will seize this historic opportunity to turn words into action by backing the Bill and putting an end to these outdated and discriminatory laws.
“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.”
Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, said:
“This Bill tackles three of the most fundamental injustices that people with mental health problems experience. It is important not only because it will repeal antiquated rules that have no place in our society but also because it sends a symbolic message to the wider public about the stigma and discrimination that many people with mental health problems continue to face every day. Discrimination should never be tolerated and by removing it from law we would be one step closer to achieving true equality for people with mental health problems.”
Professor Sue Bailey, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:
“The College has worked closely with Lord Stevenson on this legislation. We are proud that so many MPs are supporting this Bill which goes some way to removing the stigma associated with mental health problems, and aspects of existing legislation that are both discriminatory and outdated.”
Jack Holloway, 27, works in charity communications in London. He was called up for jury service last year, but when he disclosed the fact he was seeing a therapist once a week for depression and anxiety, he was told he wasn’t eligible to serve.
“Some people may see jury service as a bit of a chore, but I was keen to do my bit. I found the whole experience really quite upsetting – to be told you’re not wanted, based purely on the fact you have a mental health problem, seems completely illogical and unfair. I work full time and manage my condition well. Being denied the chance to do my civic duty made me feel disenfranchised and frankly, bewildered.”
Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central and sponsor of the Mental Health Discrimination Bill, said:
“To our shame, the law still discriminates against those with a mental health condition. As well as stopping this, the Bill will also send a clear message that discrimination is wrong: people have a right to be judged as individuals, not labelled or stereotyped.
“Having a mental health condition is nothing to be ashamed of or to keep a secret. It is high time we dragged the law of this land into the 21st Century. If my Private Member’s Bill is approved by the House, we will look back in a few years’ time and be amazed that the nonsense I have described was on the statute book in 2012.”