The new Mental Health (Discriminati0n) Bill gets its second reading in the House of Commons on 14th September. This means it moves closer to becoming law. The Bill seeks to remove some important areas of discrimination, to make it clear that people with mental health problems (past or present) may play a full part in public life – such as being an MP, school governor or serving on a jury.
In my view, the Bill misses one vital issue: criminal records checks. A tweet which gets a lot of retweets whenever it goes out is this:
“Mental illness is not a crime. Mental health history information has no place in criminal records checks. Full stop.”
People can see the obvious injustice in putting those whose only “crime” is to have had a mental health problem into the criminal records system.
This has had a direct impact on me and my ability to put last year’s events behind me and get back into the jobs market. I had a completely clean criminal record and had never even come close to being arrested.
Then, last year, police came to my home and took me to my local psychiatric hospital where I was sectioned. It wasn’t until earlier this year that I learned – through Twitter – that this meant I could no longer say, “I’ve never been arrested”: the power used by the police – s136 – is an arrest, which would be kept on police records.
And, because the police had taken me to hospital, the hospital would have notified the police of the subsequent section 2, which would also be kept on police records.
I then found out that, if I wanted to volunteer at my local school or sports club, the enhanced criminal records check the head teacher or club leader would request would show up the arrest, and that I’d been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. This private health information is not something I want to broadcast to people in the area where I’ve lived for 2 decades nor people I’d be working for.
The good news is that I found out before applying to my local school or sports club, because then the cat would have been out of the bag.
Good news for others is that it’s only where there’s been some form of contact with police that mental health history information can appear on a criminal records check. The police don’t know if you’ve visited your GP for anti-depressants or seen a counsellor. They won’t even know if you’ve been sectioned, so long as there’s been no contact with police.
More good news is that it’s only where you want to work with children or vulnerable adults – and hence need what’s called an enhanced CRB check – that such information can be disclosed. A standard CRB check just has criminal convictions.
However, for me, keeping my health information private, as is my right, means I’ve not been able to use my time and talents to volunteer at my local school or sports club. Which is a shame. For me and for them.
That’s why I was heartened to hear this very issue raised in the recent House of Commons mental health debate. And why I hope there might still be time to get this issue included in the proposed Bill.
Read the Storify story in the link below to find out more.