No longer a second class citizen
Posted Wednesday 2 February 2011
On a visit to a local Mind a couple of weeks ago, I met Helen (not her real name) who told me about some of her mental health experiences. She started having problems when she was at school, but nobody thought about mental health, so she was put down as the “class oddball”.
She then struggled to find any help for her mental health, lost what little self confidence and self-esteem she had left, and spent long periods of time in hospital. Now in her mid forties, she has never been able to work. Thanks to the support of her local Mind, she sees a bright future as her confidence grows.
Today, the Government publishes its mental health strategy. Not the Department of Health, but the Government. Helen’s struggle explains why this is so important. People who experience mental health problems don’t just experience them in mental health services. They experience mental distress in schools, in work, with friends and families.
There isn’t a government department which doesn’t have a role to play in achieving a transformation in support for people with mental health problems, whether it’s supporting veterans returning from Afghanistan, or ensuring that Police Officers are able to support people with a mental health problem who have been victim of a crime.
It’s a wide ranging document as you’d expect, and sets out six clear objectives to be achieved over the coming years. By tackling stigma, improving public mental health, and providing high quality recovery focussed mental health services, you can start to see what is and should be possible. Young people receiving early intervention, people with mental health problems having access to talking therapies wherever they are in the country, working environments supporting staff.
The strategy makes it clear that mental health has a “parity of esteem” with physical health. The message to health and social care commissioners is clear-mental health services are no longer an easy cut — in fact, you should be spending more in increasing access to talking treatments.
It also begins to move mental health into the realm of public health, rightly recognising that local authorities have an important role to play in preventing poor mental health amongst the population, just as they have a role to play in preventing obesity, smoking and alcohol problems.
Launching the strategy, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg sent a clear message that stigma will not be tolerated, by announcing the repeal of an outdated law which forces an MP to stand down if they have been sectioned for more than six months. This is a great success for the mental health charities, including Mind, that have long campaigned for this to be overturned.
So far, so good. But of course this strategy appears in the same week as MPs are debating a massive upheaval in the NHS, and starts at the same time as hundreds of thousands of people with a mental health problem will face a test of their Incapacity which is already discredited and unfair. And there are local cuts which threaten services which can be a matter of life and death to many.
In this new world order, no one really knows whether a Government strategy will work. But for people who experience mental health problems, it must work. For too long, people with mental health problems have been viewed as second class citizens, with restricted rights, and often the victim of disproportionate funding cuts. In recent times, we have seen the start of a positive change in public attitudes, evidence which shows clearly how to support people in the workplace and the wider community.
There is an emerging social movement led by people who know what it’s like to be discriminated against. To take two steps back would be a major indictment on our Government and on wider society. We can’t let that happen; this strategy must work.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive
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