In a debate earlier today, MPs spoke out to show passionate support for the new Mental Health Discrimination Bill.
The Bill was introduced by Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, with the aim of ending discrimination in the workplace against those who have a mental health condition. Under current laws, an MP or company director can be removed from their position due to their mental condition, regardless of whether they go on to make a full recovery.
People with mental health conditions are also barred from performing jury service. This discrimination often stops people from speaking out about their mental health and in some cases, even stops people from seeking treatment, for fear of how they will be treated at work.
Many of those who spoke in the debate had personal experience of mental illness and offered insightful and thought provoking comments on how they had been affected. Several MPs who talked about their personal experiences in the first debate in June, spoke of the overwhelming response they had received from their constituents, friends, family and the media.
The courage they showed in speaking out very publically about their experiences inspired many others to start talking – or even just whispering – about the impact mental illness has had on their lives. Kevan Jones, MP, who spoke out in the previous debate about his battle against depression today said:
“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.”
Figures show that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental illness in their lifetime, with even more being affected indirectly. However, it remains a seldom spoken-of and frequently misunderstood issue.
As Gavin Barwell said: “Having a mental health condition is nothing to be ashamed of, or to keep a secret,” and as many of those who spoke in the debate noted; an experience of mental illnesses has made them a more effective MP, as they were able to use their understanding to help constituents facing similar difficulties.
At the end of the debate, the bill was unanimously voted through to the committee stage, where it will be further scrutinised and debated. In the long run, this is a huge step forward towards ending the last legal form of discrimination, but more significantly, in the short term it will have the important effect of getting people talking about mental health.
Rachel Bowen, Campaigns Officer.