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: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

£27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress – arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?