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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Decision to ban mental health slurs during election campaign wins praise

Embargoed until 22 March 2010

A radical new protocol designed to stop politicians using opponents' mental health problems to win political advantage during the election campaign has won applause from key organisations in the mental health sector.

The protocol, the first of its kind in the UK, will be launched today (22 March 2010) at Westminster, after months of lobbying by a coalition made up of mental health charities Rethink, Mind, and Stand to Reason, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.  

Party leaders Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and Nick Clegg have signed up to this best practice "Compact” – an election first which effectively bans politicians from making slurs about opponents' mental health while campaigning.  

The Compact should make inroads towards stamping out mental health discrimination among politicians and encourage the next generation of MPs to be open about their mental health without fear of reprisal from opponents and the media.  

Under the terms of the Compact, politicians vow to:  

  • not stigmatise, slur or discriminate against anyone with a mental health problem, even when out canvassing
  • challenge negative attitudes towards mental health, including "canteen culture harassment" where innocent banter can cause offence
  • not speculate about the mental health of any prospective politician
  • represent the interests of all constituents regardless of their mental health.

Dinesh Bhugra, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “This election may be a battle – but it should be a battle of ideas, not slurs. Candidates must be able to be open about mental health without it being used against them. Discrimination against people with mental health problems should have no place in society, and certainly not in politics. This Compact is a symbolic step from the political parties, which must be applauded. I hope the Government elected in May continues this by making the fight against discrimination in society a core priority.” 

Paul Jenkins, chief executive of mental health charity Rethink, said: "This pact should help politicians to feel more comfortable about coming out of the mental health closet.Politicians keep quiet about mental health problems out of fear of public reprisal. However, Rethink research has found that when politicians are open about their own mental health, the thousands of individuals affected by mental illness are more likely to vote. Tackling mental health stigma face on will help to remove discrimination from the political arena while at the same time setting a bold example to the public. We look forward to continued momentum on mental health issues once the election is over."

Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said: "Playground insults about mental health problems have no place in an election campaign and we are pleased that the party leaders have taken this stand. Using someone's mental health diagnosis as a way to undermine them or mock them is entirely inappropriate but sadly this is a reality faced by many people who live with mental distress. We are pleased that politicians are leading by example on this issue and hope that post election the new Government will prioritise tackling mental health discrimination by funding evidence-based anti-stigma campaigns like Time to Change." 

Jonathan Naess, director of Stand to Reason, said: “As a lawyer and corporate financier who has thrived in work throughout my career, these issues drove me to set up Stand to Reason, a Stonewall for mental health, an organisation run by and for talented people with mental health problems, including MPs. It is unconscionable that in a representative democracy, 1/4 people should have to hide their life experiences which may enable them to make better decisions, particularly in relation to developing well-funded services that meet the needs of mental health service users. Stand to Reason contributed to the MPs’ questionnaire and Election Compact to enable more MPs to come "out" and to encourage more PPCs to come forward who might otherwise have turned their backs on Parliament.”

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896


Note to editors:

The Compact was drawn up following a recommendation in the 2008 report Mental health in Parliament, published by the All party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health.


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