Fernando speaking at the eventRichard Taylor

Chamali Fernando, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, has provoked a furious backlash after appearing to suggest that people with mental health problems should wear wristbands indicating the nature of their condition.

Speaking at a hustings hosted by Keep Our NHS Public, a campaign organisation associated with the People's Assembly Against Austerity, Ms Fernando reportedly argued that wristbands identifying mental health conditions would be helpful.

According to local politics blogger Richard Taylor, who reported on the event on Twitter, "Tory @whereis007 [Fernando's twitter handle] says those with certain mental health issues ought wear wristbands to identify their conditions."

Julian Huppert, Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge before the dissolution of Parliament, responded by saying: "There are so many reasons it's a bad idea."

Reportedly, her intent was that professionals like lawyers would be able to treat clients differently based on their wristband colour. Ms Fernando was a barrister for 12 years before entering politics full-time.

Speaking to Varsity, Laura-May Nardella, President of Student Minds Cambridge, said: "We are absolutely appalled by the idea put forward that people with mental illnesses ought to wear wristbands to identify their conditions. Mental illness is isolating at the best of times and cattle-branding those suffering would only add to that feeling of social exclusion.

"An important message that Student Minds and all other mental health charities tirelessly push to get across to the public is that mental health should be treated with the same dignity, sympathy and respect as other illnesses.

"Ms Fernando is a great reminder why those of us working to change perceptions of mental health must continue to fight the stigma, and she is also a reminder that some politicians are still very much stuck in the 1950s (or, in Ms Fernando’s case, the 1600s)."

Cambridge student Amber Cowburn, who founded the Invictus Trust supporting teenagers with mental health problems, told Varsity: "I'm horrified by Chamali Fernando's suggestion that mentally ill people ought to wear wristbands. If this is how the Conservative Party propose to beat the stigma surrounding mental health, by marking out and humiliating each sufferer, then they need to rethink urgently.

"A mental health illness is not the defining feature of the person suffering from it, and to suggest that they should be branded in this way by a coloured wristband is not just crude, but a damaging regression to the dark past of isolation and suffocating stigmatisation."

Taylor later released a fuller statement to Varsity, saying: "It's an astonishing thing for the Conservative candidate to be Cambridge's MP to have said. Chamali Fernando doesn't appear to consider those with mental illness as her equals and as people she can talk to, and listen to, normally."

He also expressed hope that Fernando's comments do not overshadow the other substantive points raised during the debate, including whether there is a role for private finance initiatives (PFI) in the NHS, and how local and democratic input can be integrated into NHS decision-making.

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