Is this discrimination of the first order?
Posted Wednesday 30 September 2009
On the second part of Mind's journey to Party Conferences, we landed in Brighton for the Labour Conference. The question on our minds was simple - can Labour achieve a joined up approach for mental health - however everyone else wanted to talk about Andrew Marr's quizzing of Gordon Brown about his health and whether he was taking "pills to help him get through".
Marr put the question to the PM after a number of bloggers had speculated that as Gordon Brown restricts chianti and cheese from his diet he may be taking MAOIs, an outdated category of antidepressant. The PM denied taking any pills and focussed on policy. End of story? Not quite, as the interpretation of the issue raged around the Conference floor.
I was amazed by this. There are almost 36 million prescriptions for antidepressants in the UK, so by definition thousands go about their daily work while on antidepressants.
Winston Churchill, voted the "greatest Briton" in a national poll, struggled with his "black dog" of depression for years (for more on this, see the Time to Change campaign's A World Without report). And former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik took a sabbatical to recover from his mental health problem and then went on to win re-election. Why should this be such a big deal?
We still want our politicians to be strong and superhuman. Yet it's a stressful job. We found that 1 in 5 MPs had experience of mental distress, but very few have talked about this openly. There is still stigma on this issue, and this is something the Time to Change campaign is tackling.
Our mission at the conference was to encourage Ministers and their departments to fully engage with the Department of Health's New Horizons consultation, which I urge you to comment on.
At first the signs were not good. Many MPs we spoke to were unaware of New Horizons. But as we discussed this with Ministers in the Department of Work and Pensions, the Ministry of Justice, Department of Communities and Local Government and elsewhere, it became clear that mental health policy already goes way beyond the Department of Health and mental health services. Now there's a chance for the government to follow a more joined up approach, with departments working together to create a clear sense of purpose for putting mental health at the heart of society.
As we head towards an election, we'll carry on pushing for a better chance for all.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive
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