‘Repressive legislation from a repressive government’ – Mental Health Bill condemned!

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Mental Health Alliance lobbyists outside parliament on Tuesday
Mental Health Alliance lobbyists outside parliament on Tuesday

‘This is further repressive legislation from a very repressive government – attacking the most vulnerable,’ mental health service worker and user Jo Squires said outside Parliament on Tuesday.

She was part of a 500-strong lobby of Parliament during the second reading of the Mental Health Bill in the House of Lords.

The Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of 78 organisations, organised the Lobby.

Jo Squires told News Line: ‘I’m Public Affairs Officer at Together and also a service user too. Together is the oldest mental health charity in England – 127 years.

‘Our ethos is working for wellbeing, which basically means ensuring all service users have the opportunity to live fulfilling and happy lives.

‘My personal main concern is there is nothing in there about the right to advocacy, so if people are detained under the Mental Health Act they won’t have the right to an advocate, so they won’t have anyone to represent their views if they are unable to do it themselves.

‘Having been in hospital myself, if I was unwell again an advocate is what I would definitely want and need.

‘This is further repressive legislation from a very repressive government – attacking the most vulnerable.

‘They cynically use propaganda and scaremongering, creating images of mentally ill people being violent.

‘Whereas the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.’

Sean Walley, from the North Staffs Users Group, said: ‘People suffering mental illness must be treated as equals in society, not looked down on, not persecuted.

‘People have the wrong idea of people suffering mental illnesses.

‘We need protection, not attacks. And more money for services.’

Fellow North Staffs Users Group member John McKenzie said: ‘This Mental Health Act is focussed on the tiny number of people who may be a danger to others and not the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who need better services.

‘It also focuses on coersion far too much.’

Alan Whittaker, from North East Lancs Mind, said: ‘Under the bill, people can be found guilty of an offence without committing an offence.

‘Compulsory treatment in the community can be imposed on people deemed to have a personality disorder, regardless of the treatability of that disorder.

‘Locking people up who have never been convicted of anything, it is part of this war-mongering government’s general attack on civil liberties.

‘Mental health discrimination is the last acceptable discrimination.

‘Like blacks and women before us, now it’s the turn for us to stand up and fight for our rights.

‘And like them, we aren’t a minority either. The majority of people have to rely on mental health services at some time in their lives.’

Pointing to the Houses of Parliament, Alan concluded: ‘These geeks in here are going crazy all the time, they just don’t know it yet.’

Andy Bell, Chairman of the Mental Health Alliance said: ‘At the moment you have to be treatable to be detained under the Mental Health Act.

‘It is very likely practitioners will be under pressure to detain people under compulsory powers. Being sectioned is very distressing.

‘There will also be the power on practitioners to impose limitations on people’s behaviour on things like not going to the pub, curfews etc.

‘There are many flaws in this legislation. No access to independent advocacy, no right to be assessed when you come forward and ask for it.

‘The scope of supervised community treatment has to be reduced. The treatability criteria has to be maintained.’

Kathryn Hill, from the Mental Health Foundation, said: ‘Our two main concerns are the community treatment orders, imposing unacceptable conditions on the way people live their lives in the community; and the removal of the right to advocacy, meaning that people can be unjustly punished and labelled as dangerous without legal redress.’

Angela Greatley, Chief Executive, Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, said: ‘Our concern is that under supervised compulsory treatment people can be compelled to take medication, live in one particular place and banned from going to certain other places, without having committed any crime or being any danger to society.

‘When people are discharged into the community they should have decent mental health services and they should also have the right to advocacy.

‘It’s so mistaken.’

Andrew Voyce, a campaigner and service user from Sussex, said: ‘It is deplorable that the provisions of the new proposals for legislation mean that treatment need not be therapeutic, and place onerous restrictions on service users.

‘I would not blame people subject to the provisions of the new proposals, if they, like I once did, decided that life on the streets would be better.’

Adam Barrett, 25, a service user volunteer worker from Cheshunt, said: ‘The new Bill doesn’t offer hope to people and fails to provide them with help to voice any concerns about treatment.

‘It is a shame that advocates aren’t in the government’s proposals because I know from my own experience such support would play a vitally needed role in safeguarding the wishes of young people, in particular, when faced with unacceptable compulsory treatment.’

Dr Tony Zigmond, Honorary Vice President at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: ‘Of course I sometimes need the authority to treat some of my patients without their consent.

‘The problem with this Bill is that it will increase the stigma and fear that people face when they consider telling me about their mental health problems.

‘As a doctor I need service users to trust that I will always put their health first.

‘We need legislation with principles that strengthen the rights of service users and carers.’