The word AUTISM spelled out in letter cubes.By Mike Small

Scottish policy makers are in danger of a category error. Here’s a clear example of where cross-party support can make bad policy better, tomorrow.

Tomorrow (Wednesday 24th June), the Scottish Parliament will debate the Mental Health Bill, which is the first major review of the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act since its inception in 2003.

Various Amendments have been submitted to the final stage of the Bill, and some of these have been initiated by Autism Rights, a small unfunded group that campaigns for the rights of people on the autistic spectrum. Nearly 4 years ago, Autism Rights issued a Call for Action, to end the inclusion of people with autism and Learning Disabilities within the provisions of the Mental Health Act. The group hopes that the amendment from Jackie Baillie MSP, calling for a review of this inclusion, will be passed as part of the new legislation.

Fiona Sinclair of Autism Rights has written 2 articles for Newsnet Scotland, detailing the very serious problems created by the current Mental Health Act for people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, as well as other deficiencies in the mental health system as a whole, that exacerbate this. See The Madness of the Mental Health Act and We Should Face Up to the Madness of the Scottish Mental Heath System.

Autism Rights’ research over several years has found that there are no statistics for the numbers of autistic people in the mental health system and that there are no published statistics for the number of people who die in the Scottish mental health system each year. “In fact,” Mrs Sinclair said, “the recent investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into deaths in the mental health system could not include Scotland, because of the absence of data, and was forced instead to re-hash a report from the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland that was prompted by my own Freedom of information Request, asking for the number of deaths each year.”

A spokesman said: “We want to know how many more years it is going to take before the Scottish Parliament and Government accept that the publication of such statistics represents basic measures of compliance with human rights. Without these, their assertion that the Mental Health Act and the system it supports are compliant with Human Rights law is empty rhetoric.”

“Psychiatrists are still misdiagnosing autism as schizophrenia and physical illness as mental illness. Mental distress in people with autism can often be a consequence of abuse or of inappropriate or incompetent provision of services and should not be treated with powerful drugs.”

“When the United Nations is stating quite clearly that psychiatric treatment should not be given to people with disabilities and that to do so is in breach of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), and the Westminster Government has issued a Green Paper, that seriously considers taking people with Learning Disabilities and Autistic Spectrum Disorders out of the provisions of their Mental Health Act, why is the Scottish Government so intent on continuing with this inhumanity and outright discrimination?”

It’s worth noting too that a campaign to effect improvement to the lives of disabled people in England – the LB Bill campaign – incorporates the same measure as Autism Rights’ Call for Action, to take people with Autistic Spectrum Disorders and Learning Disabilities out of the provisions of the Mental Health Act. This campaign has received the support of more than half of Westminster’s MPs, including 26 SNP MPs, although it will not affect us in Scotland.