Long supports Westminster Bill to reduce stigma and discrimination around mental health issues

East Belfast Alliance Party MP, Naomi Long, has spoken in favour of a Private Members Bill in Westminster which is seeking to end unfair discrimination against those with mental health problems.

The Bill aims to reduce stigma and tackle unfair discrimination in respect of full participation in public life for those who have mental health conditions, by amending the Mental Health Act 1983.

The amendments cover laws relating to the disqualification of Members of Parliament and the NI Assembly from serving, limitations on eligibility for jury service and the termination of company director’s appointments on mental health grounds.

Speaking after the debate, Naomi Long MP said: “The law as it stands sends out the message that if someone has a mental health condition their contribution to public life is not welcome either at the time of their illness or, in some cases, at any time in the future. By removing or amending these outdated laws, the Bill would send a clear message that stigmatising those with mental health conditions is wrong.

“One in four people will experience a mental health condition during their lifetime; three in four of them will have a member of their immediate family experience such a condition. The World Health Organisation has estimated that by 2030 more people will be affected by depression than any other health condition.

“Most will recover and with medical help be able to manage their condition and continue to make a full contribution to society.

“Despite this, having had any mental health condition could exclude a person from jury service for life: this is just one example of where the law needs to change to better and more fairly define who should be eligible for jury service to ensure that it is properly based on capacity not prejudice.

“In the case of an MP, MSP, AM, or MLA they can automatically lose their seat if detained under the Mental Health Act for more than 6 months; however, no similar provisions exist if public representatives suffer from a physical illness which results in the same or greater loss of capacity to do the job.

“Such differential treatment of those with a history of mental ill-health adds to the stigma suffered and can be a disincentive to people seeking treatment, from coming forward for public service, and from speaking publicly about mental health for fear ofjeopardizing their career or being excluded from making a full contribution to society.

“I am glad that the Bill passed its second reading today and hope that this represents a significant step forward in tackling unfair discrimination against those with mental health issues and sends out a positive message about how wider society should approach these issues.”


Notes to editors:

The Mental Health (Discrimination) (No 2) Bill, proposed by Gavin Barwell MP, seeks to:

– repeal section 141 of the Mental Health Act 1983 under which a Member of Parliament, of the Scottish Parliament, of the Welsh Assembly or of the Northern Ireland Assembly automatically loses their seat if they are detained under the Act for more than six months. There is no equivalent provision to remove an MP if they suffer a physical illness that affects their ability to perform their role;

– amend the Juries Act 1974 to significantly reduce and better define who is ineligible for jury service. At the moment, the Act says that mentally disordered persons are ineligible. The definition of a mentally disordered person is extremely wide and includes people who manage their mental health condition through a prescription from their GP or counselling from a psychiatrist, thus eliminating all sorts of people who would make excellent jurors. Only 2% of people self-identify, but many more should probably do so – so not only is the law discriminatory it is also ineffective. If someone is on trial, it goes without saying that they have a right to be confident that the jury is of sound mind. The Bill would better define who should be ineligible, thus making it much more likely that those people would identify themselves; and

– amend the Companies (Model Articles) Regulations 2008 so that someone no longer ceases to be a director of a public or private company purely because of their mental health. All companies are required by statute to have articles of association and the model articles operate where a company has failed to draw up its own (they are also often included in the articles of those companies that do draw up their own). The model articles include a provision that someone ceases to be a director if a registered medical practitioner who is treating them gives a written opinion to the company stating that they have become physically or mentally incapable of acting as a director and they remain so for more than three months – in other words, the correct test of capacity. However, they go on to include a totally unnecessary additional provision relating solely to mental health.

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