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Tackling entrenched exclusion of people with mental health conditions a key test of new equality commission

Improving the life chances of people with mental health conditions should be at the heart of the work of the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights, a mental health advisory group said today (Thursday 21st June 2007).

People with long-term mental health conditions currently experience some of the most entrenched social exclusion in modern Britain and a major test for the CEHR will be how well it transforms their opportunities in society.

Whilst accepting that there have been some major breakthroughs for people with mental health conditions since the Disability Discrimination Act came into force, the Mental Health Action Group (MHAG), which advises the Disability Rights Commission (DRC), said in a report that these successes needed to be built on to end deep-rooted disadvantage.

Unemployment among people with mental health conditions is 80 per cent (1). They are more likely to suffer housing problems or be homeless (2) and they are more likely to die young from preventable illnesses (3).

A DRC investigation found that despite high levels of ill health, over 50 per cent of people with mental health conditions said they experienced difficulties when trying to see their GP. Key barriers include the attitudes of reception staff, inflexible appointment systems and inaccessible information, including information on the side-effects of psychiatric medication. A small number said that they were not registered or had been struck off a GPs list, because they were deemed too demanding.

Abina Parshad Griffin, Chair of the MHAG, said: “Racism and discrimination affect mental health; and then discrimination on mental health grounds and poverty often follow, in a vicious cycle. That is why we welcome the new CEHR. It could break the cycle by addressing mental health and equality across all programmes of work.”

Following the DRC’s Disability Agenda launched in February, MHAG set out a nine-point priority plan for the CEHR. These include promoting equality and ensuring that people using mental health services should not be barred from jury service, becoming an MP, magistrate or company director (4).

Challenging prejudiced and disparaging statements equating mental health conditions with violence should also be part of a future CEHR remit, as should encouraging staff in health and social services to support people participating in the community.

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