A young, male patient with complete remission of his symptoms of schizophrenia realised to his consternation that section 136 under the Mental Health Act 1983 came up on Criminal Records Bureau check (enhanced disclosure). The patient had since his breakdown 3 years ago successfully returned to his university studies and was simply applying for a holiday job as a gardener at a local rest home when he discovered the problem.
As part of his university course he will have to do a placement year in a company and fears that the disclosure will lead to discrimination against him in the competitive selection process. We were advised by the trust solicitor that the local chief constable would have discretion to remove the information from the disclosure form. This was denied as ‘the details were factual at the time’.
In our view this is stigmatising and unnecessary. Adding this information to a person's criminal record sends out a signal that people with mental health problems are inherently dangerous and need to be excluded from certain areas of work. If people with mental health problems are dangerous that should be reflected in their actual convictions, not by having had a breakdown requiring a section. Surely, the police would never keep a record of patients with diabetes or gall bladder problems.
We wish to draw attention to the overlooked area of mental health legislation as a barrier to employment for those with mental illness. According to a new study, only 14.5% of people with schizophrenia were in competitive employment (Reference Rosenheck, Leslie and KeefeRosenheck et al, 2006). Unquestionably, allowing discrimination as described above to continue is not going to facilitate improvement in this number. In the absence of national guidelines it seems absurd that the police have unrestricted powers to make decisions of this nature regarding matters in which they have not been trained. This area needs to be urgently addressed to reduce the burden of stigma and discrimination on an already vulnerable group of people.