Coffee House

Govt to support Barwell’s mental health bill

7 September 2012

9:33 AM

7 September 2012

9:33 AM

‘This isn’t staged, I promise,’ Gavin Barwell joked as an MP bounded up to our table in the Portcullis House atrium to demand why the Croydon Central MP hadn’t been given a job in the reshuffle. Had he turned something down, his colleague asked, throwing his hands up in the air in despair. Rather like Robert Halfon, though, it’s not a bad thing Barwell remains on the backbenches as at least his campaigning zeal is undented by the appearance of red boxes on his desk.

Instead, the Tory MP’s desk has a private members’ bill sitting on it which has its second reading next Friday. It’s the Mental Health (Discrimination) (No.2) Bill, which calls for three changes to the law around what people suffering from a whole range of mental health issues can and can’t do. Barwell spoke about the proposals in the moving debate before the summer recess in which a number of his colleagues in the Commons revealed their own struggles with mental illness. Coffee House can now reveal that the government will support the measures in the Bill, and Labour has indicated similar support, which means it is highly likely to proceed to committee stage.

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When you read the changes proposed by Barwell’s Bill, it’s amazing they’re even necessary today: they allow anyone voluntarily receiving regular treatment for a mental health disorder who are not in a hospital to sit on a jury (currently someone seeing their doctor regularly for anti-depressant treatment, or receiving counselling for a problem like anxiety attacks is barred); they repeal the section of the Mental Health Act 1983 which automatically removes an MP from their seat if they have been sectioned under the act for more than six months; and they remove a provision in the standard articles that many companies adopt which allow a company director to be removed if they have a mental health problem.

These might seem small changes, but their overall aim is to tackle discrimination against those suffering from mental illness. This legislation is another example of the enormous influence that an MP can wield to change life for the better without carrying any red boxes around at all.


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Show comments
  • Nicholas

    I am pleased to see that the Spectator’s Coffee House exercises no discrimination against telemachus, despite his obvious difficulties and challenges.

  • SimonToo

    If they are receiving support from both the government and the opposition, there is probably something profoundly wrong with the proposals.

  • James102

    Again we seem to be straying into wishful thinking territory. We want people with mental illnesses to be able to take part in all aspects of life without thinking about what this means in practice.
    By its very nature mental illness affects the ability to think rationally either due to the illness or the medication. Some aspects of life require rational decision making even if occasionally it seems people employed to make rational decisions such as judges and MPs lack that rationality it does not mean we should add to the list.
    Would Coffee House readers like to be tried in front of a jury who had members with mental health problems? Would they consider it rational for an MP suffering from a mental illness to be able to vote on matters of national importance?

  • James102

    Again we seem to be straying into wishful thinking territory. We want people with mental illnesses to be able to take part in all aspects of life without thinking about what this means in practice.
    By its very nature mental illness affects the ability to think rationally either due to the illness or the medication. Some aspects of life require rational decision making even if occasionally it seems people employed to make rational decisions such as judges and MPs lack that rationality it does not mean we should add to the list.
    Would Coffee House readers like to be tried in front of a jury who had members with mental health problems? Would they consider it rational for an MP suffering from a mental illness to be able to vote on matters of national importance?

    • http://www.facebook.com/thedukegooders Sam Gooders

      The Problem with your central premise is that like many people you don’t actually understand the term mental illness. This is a very broad and vague term that can refer to everything from extreme paranoid schizophrenia to mild depression or anxiety. Considering that there aren’t many people in society that haven’t suffered from depression or anxiety it seems bizarre to have such a broad definition of mental illness, which is what this debate and Barwell’s Bill is all about. The Bill doesn’t suggest that people who suffer from serious psychosis should be able to serve on Juries or be the the Boards of Companies.The problem with you’re attitude is that you don’t appreciate that mental illness is very complex and has many variations both mild and severe.

      • james102

        I’m glad to see you are such an expert on my views.

        I would not want someone even slightly depressed to decide
        whether I should go to gaol. Some consequences are too serious to indulge the
        type of wishful thinking you seem to advocate. We need to deal with the world
        and humanity as they are rather than how we would like them to be.

        It is one thing having comedians and entertainers struggle
        with mental illness where the consequences to the general public are virtually
        non-existent(unless you are invited to use their swimming pools) but very different
        for MPs,judges or members of juries.

        • iviv44

          “I would not want someone even slightly depressed to decide
          whether I should go to gaol” Why not? They are likely to analyse the evidence more rationally than a “normal” person – who is more prone to introducing emotion into the process.

          • james102

            So depressed people are rational and make good decisions?
            When they commit suicide the verdict is normally that: “…the balance of the
            mind was disturbed.”Clinical depression is by definition irrational as it is
            not dependant on external factors.

            • http://www.facebook.com/thedukegooders Sam Gooders

              Most depressed people don’t commit suicide, even someone with such little understanding of mental illness like yourself should understand that. I think… and forgive me as I don’t know you’re mind, I’m just basing this on your comments – but what I think you’re saying is that anyone who has suffered any form of mental illness is incapable of thinking rationally at any moment in time….. Unlike most people who behave and make rational decisions all the time, such as smoking, drinking and eating too much when we know it’s bad for us. Should obese people or smokers be treated as mentally unbalanced and therefore incapable of rational thought because they don’t always behave rationally. Even people who don’t fall under the title of “mentally ill” make irrational and illogical decisions, it’s part of being human. Now, I’m not saying that people who suffer from serious psychosis should be allowed to sit on a jury, but someone who has been suffering from mild depression?

              • rubyduck

                Sam Gooders “Most depressed people don’t commit suicide”

                If they’re not trying to top themselves, directly or indirectly, they’re not depressed. Just a bit sad, or petulant.

          • rubyduck

            B*****ks

        • Trofim

          I suggest, james102, you look up “depressive realism”. It’s worth bearing in mind that bankers, the ones whose decisions created the banking crisis, are as a rule hale and hearty, optimistic creatures. And as for excluding slightly depressed people from decision making, then we have to vet women for the time of the month, and everyone else to see if they are recently bereaved, divorced, got money problems, health problems, made redundant and so on, before we allow them to make important decisions. Choosing a jury is going to be fun. I speak as someone who spent his working life in psychiatry, during which time I met some of the most optimistic people in the world – manic-depressives while manic. They’re mostly dead now – at their own hand.
          As for me, I would certainly like my financial adviser to be a bit morose. He’s much safer like that.

    • Craig

      Agreed – well said.

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