The Mental Health debate that was held in the Commons yesterday was a historic event. Breaking all stereotypes about the political classes my fellow MPs and I sought to reach a unanimous consensus. The expected party political attacks were on hold as everyone in the chamber sought to decisively demonstrate that the taboo and labels surrounding discussions about mental health conditions were a ridiculous throwback from a bygone era.
In researching potential subjects for my Private Members’ Bill I learnt to our shame that the law still discriminates against those with mental health problems. If you are an MP or a company director, you can be removed from your job as a result of a mental health condition, even if you go on to make a full recovery. Many people who are perfectly capable of performing jury service are disbarred from doing so based on the loosest of definitions. I was and still am amazed that this nonsense is still on the statute books in 2012. As a backbench Member of Parliament it’s a fairly rare opportunity to change the law of the country, so how could I resist? During the Mental Health debate yesterday I was proud to announce that on Wednesday 20th June I’ll be presenting the Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill to the Commons – starting the process to turn it into law and end the last legalised form of discrimination.
The Government has indicated its support in principle for the Bill, as have leadership and members from the Opposition benches. So across political parties there is a strong view that this discrimination has no place in modern society. The second reading is already scheduled for September, it’s there that the real test will begin but one I’m confident that everyone in the Commons will support.
I’m confident that the Bill will succeed for two very strong reasons. Firstly I know that Parliament, schools, companies and our court system benefits from the involvement of people with experience from all walks of life – including having experience of mental health problems. Secondly, apart from the people that the Bill will directly help, it will send a clear message that discrimination is wrong, that people have a right to be judged as individuals and not to be labeled or stereotyped.
In September, the excellent ‘Time to Change’ campaign run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness surveyed 2,700 people with mental health problems. 80% said they had experienced discrimination for their condition with over two thirds being too scared to tell their employer. 62% were too scared to tell their friends and, worst of all, 36% were too scared to seek professional help.
Having a mental health condition is nothing to be ashamed of. It is nothing to be kept secret and it’s high time that we drag the law of this land into the 21st Century. This is the last form of legalised discrimination. Barriers to equality such as this need to be eradicated once and for all which is why I’m proud to play my part by using my Private Members’ Bill to steer this to the Government statute book
I think it’s time for change. Do you?
Gavin Barwell is Conservative MP for Croydon Central
Total Politics recently published a series of articles on mental heath and politics. You can read the contributions here