My view on our conference motion to end discrimination in mental health care

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The problem with conference is that it is impossible to get to everything! I was hoping to speak on Sunday morning in our debate on the policy motion entitled, “Ending Discrimination In Mental Health Provision”. Regular readers of LDV know that mental health policy is an area I feel strongly about, so I am gutted I can’t get there due to a conflict.

 So I’ll blog my speech instead…

Currently, in our country if you are someone without a mental disorder you have an absolute right to refuse medical treatment or refuse to be detained for medical purposes.

However, if you have a mental disorder or have learning difficulties you lose that right and can be detained and treated under the Mental Health Act 1983 without giving consent.

As the charity Mind has pointed out, anyone with capacity who does not have a mental disorder should not be involuntarily detained. Forcibly detaining someone based on disability is completely discriminatory and should be stopped. As this motion says in lines 17-18, such detentions are in breach of the UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities.

I am particularly concerned that the Mental Health Act 1983, as amended by the Mental Health Act 2007, justifies the involuntary detention of those with learning difficulties whose behaviour is “abnormally aggressive or seriously irresponsible”. Behaviours in those with learning difficulties often have unrelated causes (sensory overload, for example), so understanding the cause of such behaviour, and treating the underlying symptoms is what is needed, not involuntary detention.

I am a Board Member of the Fragile X Society. Fragile X is a genetic condition. Most of those affected experience learning difficulties. Some of those with Fragile X also have autism. But they are not mentally ill. They have a genetic condition, a medical condition, which affects the protein levels in brain cells and leads to learning difficulties. Yes, many people with Fragile X and autism get specialist support through Mental Health services, but not because they are mentally ill. Learning disability support services have traditionally been linked with CAMHS. Until we get joined up services for those with learning disabilities, we risk the stigmatisation of learning difficulties being a mental health concern.

This motion sets right what is wrong in mental health law. It draws attention to the fact that most of those with learning difficulties still have capacity, and it is capacity which should allow someone to choose or refuse medical treatment.

I was spurred into politics four years ago because of visiting a friend who had extreme mental ill-health and was involuntarily detained in hospital. In her case, I think the right decision was made. But having had first-hand experience of what involuntary detention involves, I think no person should go through such a process unless they lack capacity and it is in their best interests to be detained. In no instance should this be purely on the grounds of learning disability.

I urge you on behalf of the many people living with Fragile x and Autism in this country, support this motion and give them back control over their own bodies.

* Kirsten Johnson is the PPC for North Devon and Day Editor of Lib Dem Voice.

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