Sunday Express victory as mental health sufferers get equal rights
MENTAL health sufferers will no longer be barred from public service or senior posts under sweeping changes to the law expected to be passed tomorrow.
Campaigners and charities say the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill, which has its third reading in the Lords tomorrow, will end years of prejudice.
The legislation repeals the practice of preventing those who have suffered mental health problems from serving on juries or as company directors.
It will also overturn laws that mean MPs must stand down if they have been sectioned under the Mental Heath Act.
Dr Fiona Matthews, 40, has been barred from jury service this month because she admitted to having a mild anxiety disorder. Ms Matthews, a research psychologist at University College London, was summoned after Christmas and was keen to carry out jury service because of its “importance”.
She filled out a form acknowledging her disorder which developed during her recent marriage break-up and for which she takes low-dose antidepressants.
However, she was told this excluded her from service, even after her recovery.
She says being disqualified was humiliating: “It is outrageous. You would not be blocked from service if you suffered from a physical illness. There are a huge number of people with mental health problems whose illness would not impair their judgment. Our society is losing the skills of a huge part of the population.”
Ms Matthews, a mother-of-two from Liverpool, added: “I feel absolutely normal. I am a professional person. As a scientist my job involves weighing up important evidence which is highly appropriate for jury service.”
Lord Stevenson, who developed the Bill which has been unanimously passed by politicians on all sides, said: “I am throwing my hat in the air with joy.
“Over the past 50 years we have removed discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation and age. This is the last one remaining and is a major step towards removing the stigma and discrimination around mental health.
“It is a pathetic situation that while one in four people suffers mental health problems every year and most people will suffer some form in their lives, there is such widespread discrimination.”
These long-overdue reforms will send out a positive message that the stigmatisation of people who have mental health problems should not be tolerated.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called the situation “ludicrous”. He said: “Discrimination like this has no place in modern society and it is right that these rules are repealed.
“These long-overdue reforms will send out a positive message that the stigmatisation of people who have mental health problems should not be tolerated.” Labour leader Ed Miliband added: “If people with experience of mental ill health play a full part in public life, our country will be a better place for it.”
Charles Walker, a Conservative MP who has spoken movingly about his battle with mental illness, is among those supporting the new law.
He told Parliament: “I am delighted to say that I have been a practising fruitcake for 31 years. What we are seeing is an absolute sea-change in the reporting of mental health problems. There’s still some distance to go but things are improving and they are improving quickly.
“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.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said: “This Bill 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 continually faced by many people.”