Leading article: The vote for sanity

Share

Mental illness is a subject that makes many of us feel uncomfortable. We would rather look the other way. Yet in nearly every family in the land, someone has been touched by some form of mental illness, be it depression, alcoholism or stress. We understand much more about mental health, and we know that in many cases the right choice of therapy or drugs can have remarkable effects - although we are often confused about what treatment, if any, is appropriate. Yet we are still fearful and easily swayed by panics over the small minority of mentally ill people who are violent.

It was to try to counter the fear-driven instincts of public opinion, which were driving Government policy, that The Independent on Sunday launched its mental health campaign five years ago. Our aim was above all to improve understanding, which was the best route to rescue mental health services from their neglected status in the NHS and to ensure better provision for mentally ill people. Since then, there has been considerable progress in social attitudes. The stigma attached to the more common forms of mental illness is lifting, not least because of the willingness of public figures to discuss their own experiences of bipolar disorder, the more accurate term for manic depression.

In the same period, the science of mental health has been better understood. The risks of cannabis use for a minority of the population, especially teenage boys, have become better known, forcing this newspaper to choose between its mental health campaign and its support for liberalising the cannabis law.

Public opinion, expert opinion and The Independent on Sunday have moved on. Yet there remains one focal point of resistance to change. The Government persists in trying to force through Parliament a Mental Health Bill that is stuck in the past. In concert with mental health charities, this newspaper forced ministers to amend and then shelve the Bill. But last year the Government brought it back again, containing the same illiberal measures that prompted our campaign in the first place.

The Bill was amended in the House of Lords to strengthen the rights of patients, especially against being detained for long periods against their will, and to ensure that young patients would no longer be dumped in adult wards. With these protections, the Bill would be a progressive reform of the present law. Without them, the Bill would make the present law worse than it already is. But the Bill returns to the Commons tomorrow and ministers have said that said that they will now try to overturn the Lords' amendments.

We urge all those Labour MPs who do not believe that the present law is bad, or that the Bill would make it worse, or who are tempted to opt for the quiet life of doing what the Whips ask them to read Jack's story that we report today. Jack suffered a cannabis-induced breakdown at the age of 16 and was detained in a ward for highly disturbed adults where he was assaulted by another patient.

We do not believe that ministers are ill-intentioned, but they are wrong. They are seeking to reassure us that we are protected from the likes of Christopher Clunis, who murdered Jonathan Zito in 1992, Michael Stone, who murdered Lin and Megan Russell in 1996, and John Barrett, who murdered Denis Finnegan in 2004. In each case, however, it was not the law that was at fault, but the incompetence of and lack of co-ordination between the professionals charged with administering it. There were no legal powers that the mental health services should have had, but did not have, to protect the victims.

The draconian powers that the Government wants to restore to the Bill are not needed to protect the public from that most terrifying of threats: the mentally ill violent stranger. At best, they are a distraction from the Cinderella of public service reform: sorting out management and systems in mental health services. At worst, the powers that the Government wants in this Bill will result in gross injustices being perpetrated on people who are unlikely to be believed. For most of us, the horrors of such a situation are accessible only through the fictional nightmares of Franz Kafka or Ken Kesey, but the first-hand account of Clare Allan, below, should act as a sharp reminder that such totalitarian anomalies are all too real in liberal democracies.

If the House of Commons rejects the Lords' amendments, it will be a disaster for some of the most vulnerable members of our society. But if the Lords' amendments survive, it will be a great step forward towards better provision for mentally ill people. Reject the old bill, bring in the new.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office Assistant

£12675 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Office Assistant is required...

Recruitment Genius: Lead Software Developer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Case Handler / Probate Assistant

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Case Handler/Probate ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Telesales Executive - OTE £30,000

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This precious metal refining co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A 'match' on Tinder  

Tinder may have inadvertently hit its self-destruct button by charging older users more

Nash Riggins
A Yorkshire Terrier waits to be judged during the Toy and Utility day of the Crufts dog show at the NEC in Birmingham  

There are no winners at Crufts. Dogs deserve better than to suffer and die for a 'beauty' pageant

Mimi Bekhechi
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn