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Thursday, November 26, 1998 Published at 12:05 GMT


Call to end discrimination against the mentally ill

Mentally ill people feel discriminated against in many areas

Mental health professionals have called for government action to end discrimination against people the mentally ill.

Charity Mind, the Maudsley Hospital and the Faculty of Public Health Medicine have joined forces to issue an 18-point "Without Prejudice" declaration.

The declaration highlights discrimination in employment, financial services and housing.

It calls on the government to:

  • Ensure that mental health is a priority area for the Social Exclusion Unit;
  • Introduce legislation protecting people with mental health problems from discrimination;
  • Ensure fair access to financial services;
  • Create a flexible, rights-based structure of welfare benefits responsive to individual needs;
  • Develop and monitor national performance standards for mental health services, with service users at the centre of their own assessment;
  • Adequately fund a comprehensive range of mental health services, including both medical and social care.

    [ image: Mentally ill people are 'shunned and misunderstood']
    Mentally ill people are 'shunned and misunderstood'
    Judi Clements, director of Mind, said: "People with mental health problems are still shunned, feared and misunderstood. The old bricks and mortar institutions may be going, but the attitudes that created them are still around.

    "The shift from institutional care to move community-based care is still fairly recent and people have not had the experience of living and working with people with mental health problems in an open way.

    "For too long people were locked away out of sight, and public attitudes still hark back to those days. It takes time to shift attitudes and broaden understanding."

    Ms Clements said the "demonising" of mentally ill people in the media had exacerbated the situation.

    She said mentally ill people, faced with discrimination, were more likely to suffer increased distress. Some would require increased medication, and others felt suicidal.

    Professor James McEwen, president of the Faculty of Public Health Medicine, added: "We need a change of attitude by government, professionals and the public, and through a programme of activities seek to redress the problem of social exclusion."

    The government is expected to announce more details of its plans for a radical overhaul of mental health policy in the next month.

    In the summer, it announced a range of measures, including a review of mental health legislation and the development of 24-hour crisis teams.

    However, it has yet to announce how its plans will be funded.

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