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As you may or may not know, this government is currently pushing for controversial plans to reform the Mental Health Act of 1983. Although many people agree that a modification of the old act is perhaps necessary, the changes proposed by the government have caused almost universal concern amongst psychiatric survivors, user groups, mental health charities and those working within the mental health profession.

If pursued in their current form, such changes will include the administration of compulsory medication in the community ( via community treatment orders ). Refusal to take the medication will result in sectioning, regardless of a person’s emotional state. Although it’s debatable as to how many people will be affected by such measures, the criteria for a ‘CTO’ is wide enough to allow significant numbers of people with severe mental stress being subject to such orders.

Another disturbing measure proposed by the government is the suggested incarceration of people diagnosed with a ‘dangerous and severe personality disorder’, even if they have never committed a violent offence. Although some people with a history of violence will be subject to this proposed measure, some will also be confined merely because they are ‘estimated’ to be a risk, and not because of doing anything wrong. Risk assessment techniques ( especially when there’s no previous history of violence ) are known to be highly unreliable, and it’s of great concern that such methods will be used to judge some people ‘guilty before innocent.’

We believe that such changes, along with several others proposed, will radically worsen the way that people with severe mental stress are understood and treated within the mental health system.

Despite continual opposition from service users, survivors and mental health professionals alike, it is evident from the draft mental health bill published last year that the government are intent on pushing forward these changes despite considerable evidence that suggests they are not only unethical, but unworkable. Although claiming to be working towards the creation of a more effective mental health system, the government has continually ignored the voices of service users and psychiatric survivors, sticking to it’s flawed proposals despite an almost universal opposition within the world of mental health.

With this in mind, a number of psychiatric survivors have decided to get together and organise a direct, peaceful protest. What form this protest may take has not yet been decided, but if you’re interested in getting involved in planning and organising our effort, then please visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/protestagainstthementalhealthbill/* for more details.

(*This URL might not have as much to do with mental health as it used to have. The removal of this link is pending)

The focus of such a protest will be to promote the direct and individual voices of those who this legislation will most affect – that being the voice and experience of mental health service users and survivors. Some members of the protest group have a connection with the NO Force movement, ( www.noforce.shorturl.com (gone)) which organised an extremely successful march through London last September. ( The march was attended by over three hundred people who wished to voice their opposition to government proposals. ) However, survivors and users with no link to this movement are free to join in with the planning and carrying out of the new protest effort. Rather than being lead by one group such as NO Force, any protest will be far stronger if it’s organised and carried out by a whole load of groups and individuals who may hold diverse opinions, but are united in their aim to both reduce compulsion and get our voices heard. No special talents are required to help with the planning and organising of our protest, just an enthusiasm to stand up for one’s rights.

Carers, mental health staff and families are also welcome ( as supporters ), but the protest intends to be survivor lead, with our voices being paramount. And the more survivors and users we have on board, the more representative such a protest can be of the varying opinions that people with severe mental stress hold.

The mental health bill was temporarily postponed from the Queen’s speech last year, but Louis Appleby ( the government’s mental health tsar ) has suggested that the bill may be re-proposed sometime around March 2003. Whether international events will have an effect upon this timescale ( either slowing it down or speeding it up ) is difficult to say. Whenever the bill is brought forward again, comments from Alan Milburn, David Blunkett and others reveal that they are determined to push forward with many of the more controversial and draconian measures outlined in the bill published last year.

What is certain is that we’re approaching a historical moment in the history of mental health treatment for this country. So far, the government has shown no interest in listening to the voices and experience of people who suffer from severe mental stress. Instead, they seem determined to promote an unsuitable and grossly damaging attitude towards the subject of mental health, re-enforcing stereotypes of dangerousness and ‘insanity’. This attitude, if reflected in law, will severely affect the lives of generations to come. We want to try and prevent this. Please feel free to join us.

Symon Price - was http://www.btinternet.com/~symon.price/

Contact phone number: Becky on UK Mobile phone 07734 964302 (Evenings and weekends).

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Also see Perceptions Forum