Don’t take a step back on mental health

Written by: Andrew Strong, Assistant Director (Policy and Communications), the ALLIANCE

Published: 02/09/2014

Andrew Strong, the ALLIANCE, writes on the new Mental Health (Scotland) Bill and its implications.

The summer always seems to be a very busy period for Policy Officers across Scotland’s third sector and despite the constitutional question hanging over Scottish politics, this summer has been no different.

Amongst the annual maelstrom of activity was the Mental Health (Scotland) Bill, aiming to make changes to existing laws and include provisions to extend existing initiatives such as advance statements and the named person.

All sounds good until you dig a little deeper.

The McManus Report published in 2009 should have signalled a change in our approach to mental health in Scotland.  Reviewing the operation of existing legislation, a group of experts chaired by Professor Jim McManus recommended a series of changes to our laws, aimed to improve the experience of people who have mental health problems by increasing the uptake of advance statements and increase the availability of advocacy.

But there have long been concerns that this was not effectively built upon and five years later many ALLIANCE members are still frustrated.

Take the example of independent advocacy.  Strengthening its role was seen as a key recommendation of McManus who recognised that it helps people to express their own needs and make informed decisions as well as safeguarding people who are vulnerable or discriminated against or whom services find it difficult to support.  Reference to independent advocacy would strengthen these proposals and safeguard the rights of people with mental health problems.  But despite the extreme pressures faced by independent advocacy and the 47,900 people with mental health problems predicted to require support through the process of benefits reassessments in the coming years, the Bill makes no reference to extending the expectations of this type of support.

We’ve written to MSPs considering the proposals to express our fears that the Bill, generally, does not appear to be person-centred in its approach and details a range of duties that do not recognise the person’s rights.

We must ensure that we strike an adequate balance between a person being supported to make their own decisions against decisions being taken away from them.  Valuing the voice of lived experience should apply equally no matter which long term condition you might live with, and people with mental health problems must not be left behind other groups of people who use health and social care services in this regard.

By not doing this we risk going against the international context, for example the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), but also against the much heralded development of mental health policy in Scotland.  For instance, this legislation threatens to undermine the development of the recovery approach, the emphasis we have placed on person-centredness and the Scottish National Action Plan on Human Rights (SNAP).

Our concern is that if the provisions are enacted they are likely to lead to a loss of rights for people with mental health problems with very little justification.  Scotland has long been regarded as a world leader in support for mental health, if that is to continue we must keep bucking the trend and offering person centred, rights based support.

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