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Colin Hambrook reflects on the Rethink Parliament programme / 8 November 2009

photo shows a woman with glasses talking to a man wearing a suit

Rachel Gadsden and the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, at the launch of Rethink Parliament.

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Dao has been working with Parliamentary Outreach, Rethink and artist Rachel Gadsden on a project which looks at the relevance of the parliamentary process to people who have been through the mental health system.

We reported on the pilot project Breaking Barriers and are due to film a story about the Rethink Parliament workshop programme, which is being rolled out across the UK until July 2010.

John Bercow MP launched the Rethink Parliament programme in the Jubilee Room on 5 November 2009. He said he felt Parliament had a duty to find ways of listening more to the mental health community; of finding ways to tackle the stigma and encouraging people to engage with the parliamentary process.

He hopes through the Rethink Parliament initiative that Parliament will develop a greater interest in giving prominence to people from the mental health community.

He also stated the law of averages means there will be a number of Members of Parliament with a personal knowledge of mental illness; and that there needs to be more honesty and openess generally.

Rethink chief executive, Paul Jenkins, talked about the theme of the project being about encouraging individuals to ‘find a voice. He said: “If you’ve experienced mental health problems you will be all too aware that you lack a voice. It all too often means poorer physical health; less chance of getting a job; being banned by law banned from being a juror or a company director; and that you will be disqualified from being an MP. You will encounter negative attitudes in the media; from neighbours and family; from the police and from within the health service. Negative attitudes that often equate you with being dangerous.”

He went on to say that “...Rethink Parliament is about Parliament reaching out to people; saying that mental health matters.” He hoped in tackling stigma, the project might inspire more honesty and openness from within Parliament.

There is a need for a voice amongst those of us who have been affected by the stigma and taboo that having a mental health label has imprinted on our lives. I have struggled all my life - as most disabled people do - to find a way of having some power over even some of the most basic choices. 

Mental health groups were the first people that Parliamentary Outreach particularly chose to work with, in recognition, perhaps, of how disempowered people with mental heath problems feel.

It may well be that the best we can expect are small cracks in the barriers which prevent our voices getting through. I think some acknowledgement is better than none. I look forward to finding out how this programme is received by the Rethink workshop participants in the New Year.

Keywords: mental health