Friday, 9 April 2010

Clare Allen: A manifesto for ending mental health stigma

Clare Allen (Photograph David Levene)

Clare Allen is my new hero. And if you read this article you may know why: A manifesto for ending mental health stigma. In it she states that the next government must repeal the law that stops her from standing for parliament on the grounds that she has previously been sectioned and she lists her manifesto for investing in well-being; overhauling the benefits system and giving more to carers.

I was disgusted when I came to this country. Suddenly my very private and chronic struggle became fair game as employers required you to fill in mental health questionnaires at first interviews. In South Africa, you can't be seen to have discriminated on candidates on the basis of age, race, gender, sexual preference, creed or religion; you can't ask questions regarding chronic or mental illnesses at interviews and you're not allowed to ask female candidates about their plans for child bearing.  There are strict equal opportunities laws and a move from affirmative action to Black Economic Empowerment. It is not always applied correctly but the Labour Guide is always there to give you free advice if you feel you have been discriminated against.

I had a wonderful interview shortly after I got to the UK. I had been told I had the job and we discussed my starting date. I was given a piece of paper to fill in before I left - a mental health questionnaire. I answered truthfully, listing my chronic but mild and manageable disorder and was later told by the agent that I was not a suitable fit for the position.

I realised then that I had come from a country where the constitution is based on a charter of human rights, where the questionnaire itself would have been illegal, never mind the decision reached on the basis of it. I never, ever mentioned the disorder again and in fact, this is probably the first time I am mentioning it publicly in the 30 months since I have been here.

Clare Allen is my hero because people like her fight for the rights of the mentally ill and they give them a voice, breaking the silence.

The excellent news and related to the above is that The Equality Bill (2010) was passed through Parliament yesterday and has made pre-employment questionnaires illegal.

“A key issue in the Act is the harmonisation and extension of discrimination law to cover age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief and, in many but not all instances, marriage and civil partnerships. ‘Disability related' discrimination will be replaced with a prohibition on discriminating against a disabled person by treating them unfavourably where that treatment is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Another new provision in the Act prohibits employers asking job applicants questions about their health and whether they have a disability, other than in specified circumstances (including whether the applicant will be able to carry out a function that is intrinsic to the work concerned). Employers will still be entitled to screen applicants about health after making a job offer” -

Finally.  Welcome to the 21st Century Great Britain.



  1. Excellent post, Emm, and certainly something which needs to be addressed. Just how much information should a prospective employer be allowed to have? Most mental health issues can quite easily be controlled and would not be a prohibitive factor in job performance. I the States we have enacted The Americans With Disabilities Act. This prohibits such discrimination. Let us hope more countries follow suit.

  2. I hope so too Cher. This country actually has a lot of problems with respect to health and well-being and if you don't have the strength to fight and speak up for yourself, then you are in trouble.

  3. Well said Emm, when you consider that more than one in three of us suffer with mental health issues of somekind in our lifetimes, it is a disgrace that mental health issues are regarded with such stigma in the 21st century

    Really look forward to reading much more of your clearly excellent campaign blogging work here - I'm sure it will inspire me greatly to get my own blog moving forward!

  4. Hi Magicdarts! Too true - opur perception of the mental health arena and those that suffer from mental health problems has not changed in 50 years!

    And thank you. I need to blog more, that is for sure. Don't fall into my trap of complacency!


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