A mental health charity has called on the next government to do more to reduce the number of people with mental health conditions in prison.
The call came as Rethink laid out the policies it would like to see in parties’ manifestos at the general election.
Its own manifesto includes policies covering stigma, employment, the criminal justice system, carers and treatment.
Among the policies, it wants the next government to combat mental health stigma by funding an awareness-raising campaign.
And it says the government should help public sector employers to “lead by example” in their employment of people affected by mental health conditions.
The manifesto’s strong focus on the criminal justice system comes three months after a government action plan promised to reduce the number of people with mental health conditions in prison.
Paul Jenkins, Rethink’s chief executive, has warned that “aspirations to change the system aren’t enough” and has called for action to ensure the “positive words” in the action plan “actually happen”.
In its manifesto, Rethink says those affected by mental illness should be given community-based treatment instead of prison.
And it wants all criminal justice professionals to receive mental health awareness training, as recommended in Lord Bradley’s review of how people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties are treated in the criminal justice system.
The government has committed to delivering awareness training for all frontline staff, but Rethink wants this to be a “higher priority”.
Rethink also wants ring-fenced funding so people with mental health conditions can access psychological therapies, a treatment recommended by the government advice body NICE.
Rethink is writing to party leaders to ask for their views on the manifesto, and inviting them to take part in a web chat with members.
In the run-up to the election, it will also collect signatures for a petition that focuses on several of the pledges.
And it will encourage voters to contact their prospective parliamentary candidates to ask them to pledge to champion mental health issues if elected.
Jenkins said: “We need the next government to build on the strong foundations laid over the past few years and to recognise the importance of prioritising mental health.
“We want to see more investment in services, improved access to employment, and changes to the criminal justice system so that people who are mentally ill can be treated in the community rather than in prisons.”
17 February 2010