British charity Mind has launched a campaign for equal access to justice for people with mental health problems. They say that too often vulnerable people are reluctant to report crimes committed against them.
One victim told Mind that contact with the police exposed them to yet more discrimination and vulnerability: "The system of investigation is another assault."
Mind's new research exposes shockingly high levels of bullying, harassment and exploitation experienced by people with mental health problems while living in the community and that is why they have started their 'Another assault' campaign. It targets key agencies including health care trusts, police forces and social services departments.
Mind believes everyone has an equal right to personal safety, and that people experiencing mental distress have the same rights to justice as anyone else. Here is Alice's disturbing story (the victim's name has been changed to protect her identity).
'Ever since my son died 12 years ago I've experienced chronic anxiety. And for the past seven years I've been harassed by my community. I contacted the police once when a neighbour pushed me up the stairs and shout 'get up, back to your hole'. When the officer arrived he assembled my neighbours outside my flat. At this point another neighbour shouted 'don't take any notice of her, she's just a mad schizophrenic'. No charges were ever made by the police. My daughter made a complaint about the officer's incompetence in dealing with the situation, but it didn't go anywhere. Since then I've been the victim of ongoing harassment. As well as verbal abuse, my car has been vandalised 27 times in the last six months alone. I have a Community Support Officer who's been very sympathetic, but nothing is ever done to stop the continuing harassment.'
Unfortunately, Alice's experience is not uncommon. A survey carried out by Mind last year found that 71 per cent of respondents had been victimised in their community at least once in the past two years and felt that this was related to their mental health history. A shocking 41 per cent were victims of ongoing bullying.
Mind's campaign for equal access to justice for people with mental health problems aims to raise awareness about high rates of victimisation and barriers to justice experienced by people with mental distress.
The results of their survey were published in a report along with examples of good practice from around Britain and 12 recommendations covering tougher sentences for those who commit offences against people with mental health problems, better information gathering and improvements in services provided by the authorities.
Mind has found that people with mental health problems are 11 times more likely to be victimised than society as a whole. The following shocking levels of victimisation compare worryingly with the British Crime Survey (BCS) of national figures over one year:
- 71 per cent of respondents had been victimised in the last two years (compared to 24.4 per cent in the BCS)
- 22 per cent had been physically assaulted (compared to 3.6 per cent in the BCS)
- 27 per cent had been sexually harassed and 10 per cent sexually assaulted (BCS figures of sexual violence are too low to be recorded separately)
- 22 per cent reported being physically assaulted (compared to 3.6 per cent being the victim of violence in the BCS)
- 41 per cent were the victims of ongoing bullying
- 26 per cent had their homes targeted
- Nearly 90 per cent of respondents living in local authority housing had been victimised
Copies of the Mind report which featured these findings were sent to a number of key agencies including health care trusts, police forces and social services departments.
Mind has also met with key policy makers to discuss the recommendations and representatives have spoken at a number of relevant conferences and events, generating much interest and support for the campaign.
The charity believes that everyone has an equal right to personal safety and that people experiencing mental distress have the same right to justice as everyone else. They say there is a long way to go before society eliminates all bad experiences of the justice system people like Alice have had. But, with the launch of Mind's campaign, big strides towards this goal have already been achieved.
You can sign online Mind's petition to prime minister Gordon Brown calling on him to act on the their recommendations.