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I asked the PM to provide a Covid-19 mental health spokesperson

Wednesday, 24 February 2021 Hannah

Hannah blogs about how she spoke up for Mind at a televised coronavirus press briefing.

My question about mental health was chosen to be asked at Downing Street earlier this month. I was prompted to ask it by a newsletter from Mind. The charity was asking people to add their voice to the call for a mental health spokesperson at future coronavirus press briefings to set out how people could access mental health support. I thought this was a good cause, and sent off my question, which asked the government to commit to the presence of a mental health spokesman at the next briefing. The following day I was called by Downing Street Press Office and asked to appear on the next briefing with the Prime Minister.

I was called by Downing Street Press Office and asked to appear on the next briefing with the Prime Minister

The question was to be pre-recorded exactly as asked and sent in advance, so I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t flesh it out, or get the chance to respond to the Prime Minister’s answer. However I was still encouraged to hear that the question would be included, and that the Government would finally acknowledge the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health. Mind were pleased, too, and offered me support should any press want to speak with me following the briefing. Which was helpful, as they did. Times Radio’s John Pienaar interviewed me live on his drivetime show right after the briefing, asking what I thought of the Prime Minister’s response to my question. You can hear my answer on the Times Radio Twitter page here.

Holding Government to account

Many people got in touch with me after BBC News shared the press briefing question and answer on their Twitter page, and they expressed their frustration that Boris Johnson said NHS mental health services were available as they had very bad experiences when trying to access mental health support. I sympathise with them wholeheartedly and I believe we urgently need funding to improve waiting times and services. Still, this commitment to a mental health spokesperson is a start, and I feel certain that Mind will be holding the government to account on it.

I have a special resonance with Mind as the first documentary film that I made won a Mind Media Award in 2018. It told the story of Glaswegian rapper Lumo, who sadly lost his life to suicide aged 21. The film was adapted for BBC and it will be repeated on BBC Scotland and available to watch UK-wide on the iPlayer from 5th March 2021 at this link.

The need for clear messaging

Suicide remains a big problem in the UK. One of my main frustrations that motivated me to ask the question is that when there is a high profile suicide, or a suicide in my social circle – which is becoming worryingly more prevalent – the rhetoric is always that people should reach out and that “help is there”, but of course there is a huge inconsistency in that help. This can leave people feeling lost and like they have nowhere to turn. That is why it’s so important for clear widespread messaging  about where the public can access help if they need it. Of course, the ultimate goal must be for that help to be adequately funded, available and fit for purpose.

There is a risk we are headed for a national mental health crisis, with unprecedented numbers requiring help

I have campaigned for better awareness around mental health and better access to mental health services, because I have always been aware of my anxiety and how much it affects my life. A few years ago, it got out of control and I experienced a mental health crisis. It’s a scary place to be – and it must be even scarier mid-pandemic when many people are cut off from family and friends and struggling to cope. I fear what the future holds if we do not effect change now. There is real risk we are headed for a national mental health crisis, with unprecedented numbers requiring help and unable to access it from an already overstretched and underfunded system. If we truly want to recover as a nation from the pandemic, we must prioritise mental health.

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