Mental health is a big issue - one in four people have a mental health problem each year and whether it’s you, your partner, a relative or a friend, everyone will know someone affected by mental distress. It also costs the country £105bn every year. However, despite this, it remains one of the last taboos, something that people are reticent to speak openly about, fearing that they will face stigma and discrimination. This leaves thousands of people suffering in silence, unable or unwilling to reach out for the help and support that they need.
Mind works to ensure that people with mental health problems have their voices heard, and are treated fairly, positively and with respect. Through our campaigns we push for those who influence change to work with us to bring about improved services, better legislation and protection of legal rights. We are fortunate to have the support of many parliamentarians, and there are many practical things that MPs can do to help combat stigma and discrimination. Here are a few suggestions:
- Many constituents will be affected by mental health problems, either experiencing them themselves or having a friend or family member who does, and they may approach you for support. Look out for the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on mental health’s guidance on supporting constituents with mental health problems in the autumn for tips and advice on how you can help them.
- We hope that the new Parliament will see the introduction of a Private Member’s Bill, the Mental Health Discrimination Bill, which will repeal four pieces of legislation that discriminate against people with mental health problems. This includes Section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983, under which a Member of the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly or Northern Ireland Assembly automatically loses their seat if they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act for more than six months. We urge MPs to offer the Bill your support.
- Keep an eye out for the APPG’s guidance – due this summer – on protecting and improving mental health services in the new NHS. Mental health charities won amendments to the Health and Social Care Act that ensure mental health is recognised as being just as important as physical health. Now we need MPs to ensure that local commissioners and providers deliver. The APPG guidance sets out clearly what can be done.
- One of the most effective ways of beating stigma and discrimination is to be open about mental health. Our Mental Health in Parliament report found that one in five MPs have had mental health problems and by being honest about your experiences you can be a role model that helps break down the taboo.
- Time to Change is the campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness aimed at improving attitudes towards mental health. We're asking people to make a pledge to talk more about mental health, which helps send the message to your constituents and to wider society that it's OK to talk about mental health - and it's not something that we need to be ashamed of. You can make a pledge online at www.time-to-change.org.uk and join thousands of others including Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax, Marcus Trescothick and Alastair Campbell.
These are just some of the ways in which MPs can help fight the stigma and discrimination that people with mental health problems face on a daily basis. If you’re interested and would like to find out more please contact Mind’s parliamentary team. You can also get in touch with your nearest local Mind to find out more about what’s happening in your area.
Louise Kirsh is parliamentary manager at Mind