Peter Beresford: An assault on the rights of the mentally ill

From a speech by Brunel University's Professor of Social Policy to the Mental After Care Association conference

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Mental health service users face some of the most difficult discrimination, the most ready hostility, the least understanding, the greatest loneliness and isolation, the most routine poverty and exclusion, the greatest rejection and pain, of any group in a society.

Mental health service users face some of the most difficult discrimination, the most ready hostility, the least understanding, the greatest loneliness and isolation, the most routine poverty and exclusion, the greatest rejection and pain, of any group in a society.

We know that the Government's Mental Health Bill has been revised. But we can't be reassured these changes are anything like good enough. Indeed, it seems as if the principles which have worried people still essentially underpin it and remain the same - restricting people's rights. We will have to fighting a battle we shouldn't have to be fighting, which diverts our energies from what we want to be doing.

But the situation is not all doom and gloom. All the pioneering work over the last 15 to 20 years, has been paying off. Instead of writing off service users as "sick people" who don't get "better", new models are highlighting a social understanding of mental health service users, which takes account of, and seeks to do something about, the stigma and discrimination they face. Instead of talking just about "treatment" and "cure" in isolation, it talks about support and people's need for the right kind of support, whatever that might be, to live their lives to the fullest extent possible.

Even as Government has been seeking to reduce mental health service users' rights even further, there has been a greater emphasis among us on safeguarding service users' rights.

Such a rights based approach to mental health issues helps us to stop thinking of people as individual "sufferers", and puts their situation and difficulties in the proper context of the barriers they face to be able to live their lives with some equality, as well as coping with their mental and emotional distress.

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