Wednesday, October 20

Irrecoverable position

Has the UK Independence party (Ukip) developed as much disdain for people with mental health problems as it has for Europe? The party's website states that, to protect itself from "extremists", anyone "with a record of serious mental illness" is barred from applying to become a parliamentary or council candidate.

Evidently, winning votes from the mental health lobby has never been Ukip's priority. Its most high profile MP is Robert Kilroy-Silk, who last year was shortlisted for Mind's bigot of the year award for his anti-mental illness rants in tabloid newspapers.

Ukip's director of communications, Mark Croucher, insists his party will not change its policy. He clarifies that the party's definition of serious mental illness encompasses schizophrenia, but not depression or manic depression. "As the condition [schizophrenia] is widely regarded as incurable, this is a good reason to debar such people from office," he says. "The majority of people recognise that while schizophrenia is controllable with medication, you cannot get better.
"I am not aware of any MP or someone holding political office who suffers from schizophrenia.
With manic depression, for example, there can be a resolution."

Paul Farmer is director of public affairs of Rethink, a charity that campaigns against discrimination towards those with a mental health diagnosis. He accuses Ukip of "shocking" discrimination and has demanded that it change its rules.

"Ukip's shocking policy on mental health issues beggars belief," Farmer says. "Their stigmatising approach is based on prejudice, ignorance and fear, not the facts about severe mental illness. It is a rule that belongs to the dark ages, not the 21st century. People who have experienced severe mental illness have gone on to work in business, politics and public life."

I put Croucher's comments to Ron Coleman, who, after being diagnosed with schizophrenia, went on later to become a director of a company with 14 employees, and now travels the world lecturing on recovery. "It's nonsense that people do not recover from schizophrenia," he says. "Ukip knows nothing about mental health."

Source: Society Guardian, Wednsday 20th October 2004

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