Scandal of mental patients turned into outcasts

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The Independent Online
MENTAL HEALTH experts criticised the Government yesterday, for failing to tackle the social exclusion experienced by thousands of people who suffer mental health problems.

A two-year independent inquiry has found that once people are diagnosed with a mental health problem they lose their jobs, are refused insurance, denied access to banks and further education.

One in four people in Britain experiences severe depression or some psychiatric disorder in their lives and many of these people, who are highly trained and skilled, are prevented from working again because of prejudice and ignorance about mental health problems, the study showed.

"Thousands of lives have been blighted by the rampant and powerful stigma surrounding mental health problems," said Judi Clements, chief executive of Mind, the charity which commissioned the study.

"In the days of Victorian asylums people were shut away by bricks and mortar. At the end of the century people with mental health problems are excluded by prejudice alone."

More than 400 individuals and organisations, including retailers, religious groups and the police submitted evidence.

Only 13 per cent of people with serious mental health problems were allowed to continue working, according to the inquiry report called Creating Accepting Communitites.

Many people who had received a formal psychiatric diagnosis also gave evidence to the inquiry. "These people were doctors, health service workers, managers, office workers and teachers. They had little in common except that as soon as they received their diagnosis their world changed. Not because of their condition but because they had been marked as mad people," said Ivan Massow, who chaired the inquiry.

"People lost access to financial services, courts denied them access to their children. As if to rub salt into the wound, social exclusion resulting from psychiatric diagnosis is even excluded from the Government's own social exclusion unit (SEU)," he said.

One witness to the inquiry said unemployment, isolation, homelessness, stigma, contempt and fear surrounded people with mental health problems like a shroud. "It is easier to live with a prison record than a psychiatric record," he said.

The report recommends that the SEU, looks directly at the social exclusion of people with mental health problems rather than as a side issue of other social problems.

It calls for legislation to protect people from discrimination through mental health and an initiative to promote employment for mental health service users. The financial sector should work with mental health bodies to reduce discrimination.

Although the Department of Health is looking at mental health, the issue is not one of drugs or being locked away, it is one of social exclusion, Mr Massow said. A spokesman for the SEU said: "Mental health problems impinge on all the work we do but there are no plans to look at it as a single issue because it is looked at by the Department of Health."