Human Rights and Mental Health
As citizens of the UK, we all have protection under the Human Rights Act (1998) and the Equality Act (2010). The common thread running through is fairness, dignity and justice. However, The Advocacy Project and our partners over at RightsInfo know from experience that people’s rights are not always respected or protected. Especially when it comes to mental health.
Earlier this week The Advocacy Project was asked to work with someone who was deemed not to have mental capacity (which would mean she had little control or choice over what happens in her life). As we were working with her, we discovered it was not a mental capacity issue at all. She spoke an uncommon language and it was difficult to get an interpreter organised. There is a strong base of evidence that shows people of different races are not treated equally. As she did not understand English and had not been told about the Care Act process she was going through in a way she could understand, she was uncommunicative and withdrawn. Her detachment was seen as her being unable to engage with health and social care professionals. And that contributed to her being considered as lacking mental capacity. We worked with her to get the decision on capacity overturned. We often see cases where people do not get the reviews of the case under the legislation as they should. Our role as advocates is to help people challenge these decisions.
We welcome the government’s decision to establish an independent review of mental health provision to look at the issues, including stigma and discrimination. As Jenny Edwards of the Mental Health Foundation says:
“If we are to really address the major flaws in the current legislation and balance the rights of the individual with that of the public, then we need to enshrine any new or amended legislation with the principles of equality, non-discrimination, diversity and participation.”
Mental health and the workplace
The theme of World Mental Health Day this year is mental health in the workplace. That’s a really good topic to explore. As the Cavendish Square Group, chaired by Claire Murdoch, says in the London Mental Health Fact Book:
“There is a clear link between a personal sense of wellbeing, job satisfaction and productivity. Having a mental health problem remains the number one labour market trigger for exclusion from the workforce. Nine out of ten people believe that disclosure of either a past or present mental health problem would damage their career. Much is already happening to tackle this issue but we need to do more to raise awareness, reduce stigma and discrimination and to get people with mental health problems into work.”
Stigma and discrimination are issues in the workplace and we also know the lack of parity between physical and mental health is particularly acute within the workplace.
The Advocacy Project is proud that 40% of our staff and 50% of our trustees have lived experience of the issues on which we work. This incudes personal experience of mental health problems. We are proud to be part of the Disability Confident and Mindful Employer schemes. Having experts by experience on our staff builds trust and empathy with the people with whom we work. We have the policies, procedures and support mechanisms in place to make sure people with past or present mental health conditions thrive at work, make a positive contribution and can help others on their journey to recovery. One of the key benefits we offer to all staff as part of our focus on wellness in the workplace is a confidential care line – 24 hour access to talking therapies.
Pathways to employment
The Advocacy Project has a trainee advocate scheme open to those with mental health issues who have no prior experience in this field. There is a formal induction and training programme that’s undertaken in parallel with developing practical advocacy skills acquired through shadowing and mentoring. The Advocacy Project pays for the cost of the formal training programme which culminates in a National Advocacy Qualification after 12 months. We advertise locally and take on people as apprentice advocates once or twice a year. We have run this scheme for the last three years and it has worked exceptionally well as a pathway to employment.
A new development for us is offering open access pathways to employment for people with mental health issues through peer mentoring in the boroughs in which we work. After classroom-based training and practical experience, participants will receive a certificate and a statement that can be included on their CV. We have a long track record in training and building people’s capacity to become peer mentors, and it makes sense to develop this. It will contribute to the local community and help address the issue of mental health and exclusion from employment.