Charles Moore

The new Equalities Act only increases the risks for mental illness sufferers

The new Equalities Act only increases the risks for mental illness sufferers
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Mrs May promises to amend the Equalities Act to prevent employers from ‘unfairly’ dismissing those with mental disorders. It is a laudable aim, but imagine what would happen if businesses had to keep on a disturbed worker. Imagine what it would be like, not only for the employer, but for the other employees. In her speech on ‘the shared society’ in January, Mrs May pitched into the ‘burning injustice of mental health and inadequate treatment’. In doing so, she praised the ‘tremendous campaigning work by Black Mental Health UK’. Again, this was rash. Mental health is an over-politicised subject, and organisations like Black Mental Health UK help make it so. The last Labour government engaged in a programme, alleged to have cost £650 million, called ‘Delivering Race Equality’ in mental health. It was based on the contentious idea that psychiatry is institutionally racist. This was (and is) bravely challenged by Swaran Singh, Professor of Mental Health at Warwick University. He takes apart the alleged discrimination figures and points out that if you convince black people that the system is against them, you will effectively encourage them to refuse treatment. Such refusal has led psychotic black patients to kill, he says. He attacks the idea that conditions like schizophrenia are a ‘Eurocentric’ construct, and suggests that the higher proportion of mental illness in the black population can largely be explained by social factors. Migrants of all races, for example, have higher risk of psychosis than the indigenous population. A contributing factor for higher detention in some groups is differences in family support. Family breakdown is more common in Afro-Caribbean families than in many Asian ones and is also related to psychotic illness. Professor Singh went to see the Labour minister of the day and protested at the idea of race quotas for psychiatric patients: ‘Will I have to turn away a young black man who is sick because “too many” blacks are already in the system?’ The minister listened to him and changed the programme. It is worrying that Mrs May seems to be falling for the same bogus, money-wasting, empire-building reasoning that for a time fooled her predecessors.

This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Notes. The full article is available to subscribers.