Protection Against Mental Health Discrimination

August 31, 2015

Bermuda’s Human Rights Act does not include any protection for its residents on the grounds of mental health and the Commissioner’s goal is to see the principle of non-discrimination extended to the area of mental health prior to the end of 2015, the Human Rights Commission [HRC] said today.

“According to the World Health Organisation, it is estimated that 1 in 4 people may experience some kind of mental health disability in their lifetime; it is part of the human condition,” the HRC said.

“Bermuda’s Human Rights Act, 1981 [the Act] does not include any protection for its residents on the grounds of mental health.

“Part of our role as Commissioners is to call for the evolution of our Act to ensure that it is reflective of the needs of our community and in line with international standards in support of human rights.

“There are many aspects of our Act that require attention, however, mental health has been missing since the Act was enacted and, 34 years later, it remains a glaring omission leaving us decades behind the rest of the world.

“The Commission has long been advocating for appropriate protection to put in place, and the Commissioner’s goal is to see the government’s commitment to the principle of non-discrimination extended to the area of mental health prior to the end of 2015.

“The Human Rights Commission is pleased to join forces with a variety of mental health advocates to call for the addition of mental health as a protected ground. As part of the Commission’s ongoing lobbying efforts, the Commission has submitted a definition of mental health to the Government to expand protection by including intellectual, developmental and psychological impairments.

“The Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Mr. Michael Hanson, participated in a panel discussion in March of this year hosted by the Bermuda Mental Health Foundation as part of their ‘ReThink Mental Health’ campaign, and the urgency of amending the Act to include mental health was reinforced by each of the mental health experts and advocates present.

“As Winston Rogers, Clinical Manager at Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute shared, “As long as there is no protection under the Human Rights Act for persons with mental health issues then the stigma will remain very much a part of the Bermuda society.”

“Bermuda has a long way to go to advance our consideration of mental health and how we view and care for those facing mental health challenges, but the critical first-step is to provide legal protection so that people may speak up about their mental health status without fear of reprisal. Until these rights are enshrined in law we cannot make any meaningful progress.

“Even with available treatments, nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional, and stigma, discrimination and neglect all contribute to preventing care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders.

“It is a self-perpetuating cycle and it is extremely concerning that Bermuda faces such a problem in 2015. It is all but impossible to increase awareness and advocate for open and honest dialogue to face these challenges when there remains a fear of being discriminated against should they be raised.

“There are already protections in place to protect against abuse in the area of employment, just as with existing human resource policies related to absenteeism and attendance, so this is no excuse to delaying the inclusion of this amendment.

“The Bermuda Mental Health Foundation is offering another education session as part of their ‘Rethink Mental Health’ campaign on 10 September at the Earl Cameron Theatre at 6pm [see www.bmhf.bm for more details].

“The Commissioners look forward to working with the government, opposition members and our dedicated partner agencies and stakeholders to ensure the appropriate focus and attention is given to advancing this legislative amendment, and related support services, to meet the needs of Bermuda’s community.

“As a country we must elevate the way we discuss and care for mental health and mental health disabilities, which is a reality we all have the potential to face in our lifetime, just as with a physical disability. The amendment to the Act is the first step.

“The Human Rights Commission is pleased to collaborate with the Bermuda Mental Health Foundation, Tinee Furbert, Chair of the National Accessibility Advisory Council, Winston Rogers of Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute, Magistrate Juan Wolffe and Kelly Madeiros of the Mental Health Court, mental health advocate Susan Thomas and others to progress the amendment and associated education and awareness.

“The Human Rights Commission is mandated to uphold the protections afforded under the Human Rights Act, 1981. As such, we work with all stakeholders – businesses, schools, government departments, clubs, and individuals – to support efforts to create inclusive environments free from discrimination and harassment.

“Please contact the Office with any requests for guidance, information or workshops. Please feel free to call the HRC at 295-5859 or visit your Human Rights Commission at 12 Church Street, Mechanics Building [3rd floor].”

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  1. Cranston W. says:

    What about protection from discrimination on the grounds of intellectual and developmental disability? Those individuals also deserve protection under the law.