The Commons met last Friday to try and overturn one of the last remaining legal forms of discrimination, by repealing Section 141 of the Mental Health Act. MPs are seeking to overturn the law as it currently stands, which can bar people from becoming MPs, school governors, business leaders and members of juries if they have a record of mental illness.
Kevan spoke at length in the debate in which MPs voted unanimously in favour of the Private Member’s Bill. Along with a handful of other MPs, Kevan made headlines in June by disclosing his own history of mental health issues in a debate on the subject.
A number of leading mental health charities, including Mind and Time for Change have been pressing for a change in the law, which now looks far more likely following the passage of this Bill through its Second Reading.
Kevan said: “I congratulate the honorable Member for Croydon Central (Gavin Barwell) on introducing the Bill. I also congratulate—as did the hon. Member for Broxbourne—Lord Stevenson of Coddenham on his tireless work in this area.
“I have had a very positive experience since I spoke on 14 June about my mental illness. I have received thousands of e-mails, letters and other communications from people I know and from complete strangers from all walks of life. I have found it quite a humbling experience. Actually, I suspected all along that I might get such a response.
“In the lead-up to today’s debate, I have also received a lot of supportive letters and e-mails. I have also been urging other people to support this worthwhile Bill.
“Earlier in the week, however, I received a communication from—I shall try to use my language carefully—an ill-informed individual who asked, “Why does this matter? Aren’t you just trying to make an exception for MPs? Why should they be different?” This is not just about Members of Parliament. This is about trying to lift the stigma that, unfortunately, even in 2012, still attaches to mental health, and about helping people to come forward to get the support that they need.
“To any people sitting at home watching today’s debate who are suffering from the loneliness, agonies and dark places to which depression takes them, I say that they are likely to be surprised at the response they would get—from colleagues, families and friends—if they opened up about their problems. I understand that this is difficult to do when people are in the depths of depression, which is a very private thing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South said, people often feel ashamed, but they should not be afraid and they should talk about it. If they opened up, I think they would be very surprised at the support they would receive from a lot of people.”