A summer of love, an autumn of gloom?
Posted Friday 17 September 2010
So the Party Conference season is upon us again. For the last eleven years, I’ve been to the Party Conferences of the main parties to meet Ministers, MPs, local Councillors, Party Members and other campaigners, usually at an array of seaside locations beginning with “B”.
But this year is going to be very different. Next week, the Liberal Democrats hold their conference as a party of government-the first time since Lloyd George, and I don’t think they had Party Conferences in those days. Labour are electing a new leader, likely to be a “Milli” and are regrouping. The Conservatives will be tasting the success of an election victory. And instead of three weeks of bracing air, we go to Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham.
The coalition government is in its fifth month. We’ve seen a dizzying array of initiatives, strategies, policies and consultations, and been introduced to the Big Society. We’ve also seen a barrage of headlines about cuts to public services, welfare being slashed, and warnings of doom and gloom for many years to come.
So what does this mean for people with experience of mental distress and what are we going to say over the next few weeks?
First of all, there’s never been a more important time to invest positively in mental health. Services have made positive steps to recognising the needs of service users. Research from our Time to Change work suggests that public attitudes towards mental health are showing signs of improvement. Early intervention saves lives and offers a better chance for recovery. Access to talking treatments has increased, and helps people stay in work and maintain their self-esteem.
But these positive changes are extremely fragile. A “back to the 80s” approach would spell disaster for mental health services, and for people who use those services. A welfare system which penalises people for not getting a job when some employers take such a discriminatory attitude to anyone who discloses a mental health problem, will not meet the “Fairness” principle of the coalition government.
There’s no doubt that efficiencies can be made – our report Realising Ambitions about supporting people who want to work highlighted ways that services could be more joined up and more cost-effective. More choice of treatments would also cut costs as will investment in public education and tackling stigma.
So here’s the pitch to our new Government:
- It makes economic and social sense to make mental health a priority – especially when there are public spending cuts.
- Tackling stigma has the potential to create a tipping point in public attitudes. This in turn increases the chance of more people seeking help early.
- If more people seek help early, and crucially receive the right support, then their health outcomes will be better.
- This in turn will help more people who work with a mental health problem to stay in work, and specialist support can help people who experience mental distress to find work.
- The ambition of the Big Society is to bring communities together to support each other-this is a recipe for improving mental wellbeing of the whole population, and should be the litmus test over the next 5 years.
What do you think we should be saying to Ministers and MPs of all parties? I’ll be blogging from all three conferences and you can follow me on twitter on www.twitter/paulfarmermind.
Paul Farmer is Mind's Chief Executive.
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