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Group wants action on mental health

Michael Hanson, chairman of the Human Rights Commission(Photo by Nicola Muirhead)

Bermuda is decades behind the rest of the world because of its failure to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of mental health, according to the Human Rights Commission.

The group yesterday said it aims to add protection on the grounds of mental health to the Human Rights Act by the end of this year to pull the Island into line with other jurisdictions.

It said it is stepping up its awareness campaign on mental health, and pointed to an education session at the Earl Cameron Theatre on Thursday next week, being organised by Bermuda Mental Health Foundation as part of its “Rethink Mental Health” campaign.

In recent days, Bermuda’s lack of a mental health court has been in the spotlight, with senior magistrate Juan Wolffe saying judges have their hands tied when people suffering from mental health disorders appear before the courts.

In a statement, the Human Rights Commission stated: “According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that one in four people may experience some kind of mental health disability in their lifetime; it is part of the human condition.

“Bermuda’s Human Rights Act 1981 does not include any protection for its residents on the grounds of mental health.

“Part of our role as commissioners is to call for the evolution of our Act to ensure that it is reflective of the needs of our community and in line with international standards in support of human rights.

“There are many aspects of our Act that require attention; however, mental health has been missing since the Act was enacted and, 34 years later, it remains a glaring omission leaving us decades behind the rest of the world.

“The commission has long been advocating for appropriate protection to put in place, and the commissioners’ goal is to see the government’s commitment to the principle of non-discrimination extended to the area of mental health prior to the end of 2015.”

The group stated that the HRC has submitted a definition of mental health to the Government to expand protection by including intellectual, developmental and psychological impairments.

It noted the chairman of the commission, Michael Hanson, took part in a panel discussion in March, hosted by the Bermuda Mental Health Foundation. Mr Hanson said the urgency of amending the Act to include mental health was reinforced by each of the mental health experts and advocates.

“Bermuda has a long way to go to advance our consideration of mental health and how we view and care for those facing mental health challenges, but the critical first step is to provide legal protection so that people may speak up about their mental health status without fear of reprisal,” said the statement.

“Until these rights are enshrined in law we cannot make any meaningful progress.

“Even with available treatments, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional, and stigma, discrimination and neglect all contribute to preventing care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders.

“It is a self-perpetuating cycle and it is extremely concerning that Bermuda faces such a problem in 2015. It is all but impossible to increase awareness and advocate for open and honest dialogue to face these challenges when there remains a fear of being discriminated against should they be raised.”