Mental Health Awareness Week: How you can defend your rights

Posted by Sam Grant on 15 May 2018

This mental health awareness week an estimated one in six people will experience a 'common mental disorder' like depression or anxiety.

Over the course of a year one in four of us will experience a mental health problem and rates of self-harm in the UK are among the highest in Europe. In recent years it’s started to become more acceptable to talk about mental health – but people with mental health problems continue to face serious discrimination and mistreatment.

People with mental health problems are among the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to find work or live in decent housing – even though the Equality Act makes it illegal to discriminate against people with mental health problems in work and education.

At Liberty, we’ve challenged the lack of mental health support for soldiers serving in our Armed Forces in court, and campaigned on the detrimental effect indefinite immigration detention has on the mental health of those locked up. Recent statistics show at least one person self-harming every day within the detention estate.

Over the last 20 years the Human Rights Act has helped make life fairer for those with mental health issues – be that tackling discrimination in the benefits system, getting people discharged back to the community after treatment or making sure hospitals enact reasonable safeguards to protect people at high risk.

Here’s how you can use the Human Rights Act to defend your rights if you or a family member experience mental health problems:

  • The Human Rights Act puts a duty on hospitals, other public authorities and officials dealing with mental health cases to respect and protect your rights in all they do.
  • Mental health laws must be compatible with the Human Rights Act
  • You can raise human rights issues with NHS staff and local authority staff, or go to court if you think your rights are being violated by mental health laws if:
    • You believe a family member died because of a mental health law, or because of the actions of a hospital, public authority or official – breaching their right to life.
    • You believe you or a family member has been subjected to degrading treatment because of a mental health law, or because of the actions of a hospital, public authority or official.
    • You believe a mental health law, hospital, public authority or official has breached your right to liberty.
    • You believe you or a family member has faced discrimination because of a mental health law, or because of the actions of a hospital, public authority or official.

The protection the Human Rights Act offers is a huge step forward from the way people with mental health problems were treated in the 1950s, when Liberty released our 50,000 Outside the Law report – which highlighted the injustice of thousands detained under the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act who lacked proper legal safeguards on their detention.

Yet there is still plenty to do to make sure that human rights are put at the heart of mental health policy. The number of people detained under the Mental Health Act and the Mental Capacity Act is rising. The lack of significant and independent safeguards for those people needs to be addressed in the forthcoming independent review of the Mental Health Act and then in legislation.

The Human Rights Act turns 20 later in 2018 – sign up for Liberty updates to find out how you help us celebrate.

Sam Grant

Sam Grant

Liberty
Advocacy and Policy Officer