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Combating Mental Illness Discrimination

By: Garry Crystal - Updated: 15 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Mental Illness Mental Health

Around 25% of Britain’s population will be affected by mental illness at some point during their lives. In the UK there are laws laid out to protect against mental health discrimination.

The Stigma of Mental Illness

Although there are laws in place that prohibit mental illness discrimination this type of prejudice still regularly occurs. Nine out of ten people who have been affected by mental illness claim they have encountered discrimination. A recent survey by the mental health charity Rethink found that family and employers were the least accepting groups. An astounding 92% of the public think that having a mental illness would damage a person’s career chances. Mental illness discrimination is a major problem that stops sufferers from applying for jobs or even leaving the home.

The Public’s Perception of Mental Illness

Films dealing with mental illness have been cited as having a negative effect on the public’s perception of mental illness sufferers. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has been named as the most influential when it comes to people’s perceptions of those with mental problems. Certain films have tried to put across a positive message such as A Beautiful Mind, Girl Interrupted and more recently The Soloist. Films are seen as reinforcing the stereotypes of those suffering mental health problems. This type of prejudice adds to the stigma attached to those with mental health problems.

The Law and Mental Illness Discrimination

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 does cover mental illness but there are certain stipulations. Legal protection will apply when the mental illness counts as a disability. The stipulations for this are:

  • The illness has lasted for 12 months or more
  • The illness is likely to last 12 months or be recurring
  • Past illnesses will still come under the discrimination act if they meet the 12 month rule
  • Previous problems will also count if they have or still have an adverse effect on daily activities
  • Adverse effects can include problems with memory, concentration, speech etc

Employers and Mental Illness Discrimination

An employer would not be able to discriminate against those who have suffered from mental health problems under the Disability Discrimination Act. Employees are not legally required to inform employers of their health history but if asked by an employer it would be unwise to lie. An employee who has been untruthful about their health problems can be dismissed under a cause of gross misconduct. Employers who are classed as having this type of disability cannot be treated unfairly unless there is a justifiable reason.

Services Discrimination and Mental Illness

The Insurance industry has been named as one sector where discrimination against those with mental illness still occurs. The Disability Discrimination Act is supposed to prevent people with mental illnesses from being treated unfairly when it comes to services, goods and facilities. For example, insurers cannot apply higher premiums to those with mental health problems unless it is justifiable. A complaint should be made to the Financial Ombudsman if higher premiums or outright refusal of services has taken place.

Combating Mental Illness Discrimination

There are many charities and mental health groups which are helping to raise people’s awareness of mental health issues. Organisations such as Rethink and Mind are two of the major charities that exist in the UK. Time to Change is another mental health programme with the main objective of ending mental illness discrimination. Changing the public’s attitudes towards those with mental health problems is another of the main objectives of the Time to Change programme. This organisation also hopes to decrease mental illness discrimination in the UK by 5% by the year 2012.

Mental illness discrimination is seen as one of the most common discrimination types in the UK. The stigma associated with mental illness can ruin people’s lives and can add to the pressures felt by mental illness sufferers. This type of discrimination is an ongoing problem. Educating the public and eradicating the stigma are two ways to combat mental illness discrimination. Discrimination should never be tolerated and those who do practise discrimination can face serious legal consequences.

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