First 100 days series.
Health Network: mainstreaming Mental Health.
Mental Health is often considered ‘the Cinderella’ service of the NHS. Mental health is chronically under-funded, given a lack of priority and there exists a huge disparity of esteem in comparison to physical health. So, the question is: will Ed Miliband be the fairy Godmother who finally ensures that mental Health patients receive the services that they deserve?
Unfortunately, it would require a hell of a lot of magic for Ed to wave a wand and solve the structural inequalities between mental and physical health. The problems arguably require economic, legal and regulatory reform. There is no simple answer.
So, what can we expect of a Labour government in its First 100 days?
Funding! We simply are not investing in the services that people need. People in crisis need support, but what they get, at the moment, is endless waiting lists for therapy. Early intervention has been proven in clinical studies. Yet we are still seeing major neglect of Child and Adult Mental Health Services. We know that most people who have a mental illness are likely to first present symptoms before the age of 25, yet the 16-25 demographics is the lowest take up of services of any demographic.
The key priority has to be funding. We know that all NHS services have been cut; however, when we assess the austerity programme for mental health, we must begin with the baseline that the service was already chronically underfunded before the Coalition onslaught began. And we have to see the human face of the statistics. Underfunding means that children are kept in police cells instead of hospitals, that vulnerable patients are being forced to travel hundreds of miles to the opposite end of the country in order to get a hospital bed and that patients who are discharged from a hospital admission are being sent out into the community to become street homeless.
Furthermore, we need to broaden our horizon to see mental health as something more than intrinsically related to health. Mental Health should be an agenda of every department. That is why The Labour Campaign for Mental Health have been working closely with Tristram Hunt to ensure that mental health is kept high on the agenda for education. We were delighted to see Labour commit to having Mental Health first aid training as a compulsory module for teacher training. However, such an interdisciplinary approach should be adopted for all government departments as mental health permeates all aspects of life.
But not only do we want to see an investment into Mental Health services, we also need to see a change in attitude to mental health. A change that means that employees will no longer see the need to lie to their boss when they are ill because it is so much easier to say you have the flu than admit you are suffering from depression or anxiety. A change that means that mental health patients are no longer subjected to crude stereotypes and that phrases like “pyscho” become an unacceptable phrase of everyday discourse. And a change that means that the stigma associated with receiving treatment is no longer just as traumatic as the illness itself. Realistically can we achieve all these things in the first 100 days of a Labour government? No, but can we ensure that the new cohort of Labour MPs that are elected come May 8th have these intentions in mind? Yes.
The Labour Campaign for Mental Health has been asking Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to sign up to our latest campaign to commit to taking five tangible steps to tackle stigma should they be elected. So far we have had, 40 PPCs sign up. We have also had 55 current sitting MPs sign up to our Campaign and the Time to Change pledge to battle stigma in mental health. We, at the Labour Campaign for Mental Health are committed to seeing that these promises are kept.
And who knows, Cinderella may be able to go to the ball after all…
For more information on Labour Campaign for Mental Health, visit their Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/labourmentalhealth
Victoria Ann Desmond is Co-founder of the Labour Campaign for Mental Health