AGAINST MENTAL HEALTH SERVICE USERS
London, 3rd march 2004. Many men and women who have a record of mental illness are having to lie about their condition in order to obtain life insurance, mortgages or travel insurance, or they are walking away from financial services completely in the knowledge that their chances of equal treatment are too low to get a fair deal. A new survey released today shows for the first time the extent of the financial services industry’s marginalisation of people with mental health issues, in direct contravention of the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) of 1995.
The mental health activist site, Loonscape (www.loonscape.com) has been conducting a Social Exclusion Forum over the last four months, through which it has been seeking the experiences with finances of over 1,000 users of mental health services throughout the UK. Whilst total responses have been just under 10% of this number, they have revealed the extent to which discrimination is taking place across the range of financial products considered essential to most peoples’ life planning. A copy of the Report has been sent to the Social Exclusion Unit, part of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), which is carrying out a wide ranging investigation into discrimination in the mental health sector.
Travel insurance, life insurance, life assurance, bank accounts, pensions, car insurance and financial advisors all came under the scope of the Loonscape enquiry. “It is clear that obtaining services is a problem for many people with mental health problems. It can be a stressful and discouraging process. A number of respondents mentioned this, talking about being very depressed by their experience or becoming distressed and destabilised. One person said she felt like an outcast,” said Peter Campbell, co-ordinator of the Report and co-founder of ‘Survivors Speak Out’, the mental health advocacy group.
Instances of discrimination unearthed by the enquiry included:
Travel insurance: Many people reported blanket exclusions if they declared a mental health problem;
Mortgages: Some individuals reported being forced to lie about their health history in order to obtain a mortgage;
Life assurance: Showcased the first example of a successful case being brought to court under the terms of the DDA – but only after a strength sapping two year battle;
Car insurance: Concealing a history of mental health problems is often considered. One respondent said that that he could be fined and lose his policy if his non-disclosure was discovered;
The Report concludes that people with mental health problems are clearly experiencing a worse deal than most of their fellow citizens. “Loonscape does not accept that blanket exclusions from financial services can be justified and believes that the situation where people feel forced to conceal their health histories or avoid services altogether must be transformed,” said Loonscape co-founder Vyvyan Kinross. The Report makes a number of recommendations to enable change, among them:
A list of sympathetic financial advisors should be developed
Blanket exclusion should be prohibited
There should be a time limit on disclosure – perhaps five years
There should be business advisors for people using mental health services to enable them to set up businesses
A more open decision-making process is required, including more transparent use of actuarial data.
Loonscape has obtained backing from the Ivan Massow Group, pioneer of insurance and other financial services for gay people and those with HIV, which has now launched a ‘Survivors’ brand of insurance services which includes those with mental health problems.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, access Loonscape at : www.loonscape.com. Loonscape.com is owned by Paddington Publishing Ltd