Protect people’s rights, says mental health Cross Party Group

3rd March 2021

The Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group (CPG) on Mental Health says the Scottish Government must ensure people with mental health problems are not discriminated against.

In their latest report, the Group found that people with mental health problems are still at a higher risk of being denied their rights. Worsening mental health as a result of the pandemic has created an urgent need to address this, they say.

The CPG’s report is the fourth and final part of a two-year long inquiry into the four key areas of the Scottish Government’s ten year mental health strategy.

Focussing on the rights of people with mental health problems in their latest report, the CPG highlights difficulties and negative experiences people have experienced when it came to accessing adequate healthcare, work or a decent standard of living.

The Group found that compulsory treatment is increasing every year, which requires an urgent focus. They also heard about barriers to recovery in mental health wards, including lack of privacy, exclusion from therapeutic activities, low staff numbers and problems with communication between patients, their families and staff.

The report also notes people with mental health problems continue to have the lowest employment rate of all people with disabilities in Scotland – with some describing incidents of being rejected before a job interview, having disclosed mental health problems.

Lack of diversity in the sector was also highlighted, which contributes to increased stigma and poorer quality treatment. While more likely to develop an acute mental health problem, and experience compulsory treatment, BAME people are still underrepresented in the NHS workforce.

While the Group welcomes the progress made to protect the rights of people with mental health problems, they say these findings clearly demonstrate the need for more action.

The Conveners of the Group have written to the Minister for Mental Health, Claire Haughey MSP, to seek a response to the concerns raised and to call on the Scottish Government to take a more rights-based approach to mental health care and treatment in Scotland when it reviews the Mental Health Strategy next year.

Harry aged 29, was previously admitted to a mental health ward, “My mixed, overcrowded and understaffed mental health ward did not improve my mental state, in fact it made it worse. I will never be able to unsee the things I saw and experienced, it was traumatic.

“I was told I wasn’t allowed to take part in activities, because they would overstimulate me. I felt like the odd one out. I love football, it’s a huge part of my life, and the ward would get to play every Friday. I’d look forward to it all week, but then I’d be told I wasn’t going on the bus.

“I told staff and my family I would escape and when I would do so. No one took this seriously and I executed my plan and absconded the ward, because of this I was moved into an intensive secure ward. On paper it’s not where I wanted to be, but I had my own space, there were more staff and I could take part in activities, so it actually ended up being better for me. Every patient has a unique condition and diagnosis and should be listened to and taken seriously.”

Co-Convenor of the CPG on Mental Health, Emma Harper MSP said, “Throughout our work to put this report together, it became very clear that a human rights-based approach is absolutely essential to mental health policy. This means giving people greater opportunities to participate in shaping the decisions that directly affect them and we welcome that this is the approach the Scottish Government aims to take.

“We need much more focus on how people with mental ill-health can realise their rights while they are unwell, both when they are in hospital and when they are living in the community. We all have mental health and we all have human rights and, as such, we need to ensure our policies enable people to realise their rights no matter their circumstances.”

This is the final interim report of the Group’s inquiry into the Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027. Previous reports explored the gap between physical and mental health care and the lack of access to mental health treatment and support. A summary report is due to be published. For more information on this report, the Cross Party Group on Mental Health, and SAMH's role as Secretariat of the group, visit our CPG page.