For many of us, the Christmas period is a time to reflect on the year just past. From my perspective, it's been quite a tough one: just before last Christmas I felt my mental health begin to dip, and this developed into one of the longest and deepest relapses I've had since I first experienced problems at university. However, I'm hugely grateful and relieved that the final few months of 2013 have seen things settle down a little.
So my reflections this year are coloured by both a renewed sense of pride in the work I'm fortunate enough to be able to do with Mind; recognition of how lucky I am to have the support that I do; and awareness of how much harder things would be without this support.
Working somewhere where I feel able to be fairly open about my mental health problems makes things a lot easier, as does the active support I receive from my excellent line manager. Through Mind's Taking Care of Business campaign, and our work with Time to Change, we are trying to make this the reality in all workplaces. We know this is still a long way off for many people, but we are making progress.
Since I was able to continue working during my relapse, I was lucky enough not to experience financial difficulties. However, we know that hundreds of thousands of people continue to have problems with benefits and social care, leaving them without enough money to live in dignity; not accessing the right support to help them live independently and stay in, or return to, work; and being subject to inappropriate requirements. Our campaigning has meant that more people than ever getting access to ESA first time; we have helped to successfully challenge the WCA in court; and there have been some positive changes to the Social Care Bill; but there is so much more still to be fixed.
Good support from my GP and access to talking therapies has once again been instrumental in my recovery. Mind is continuing to work to ensure that, under the new health structures, everyone can get access to high quality support. Our recent 'We still need to talk' report showed that access to talking therapies is improving, but too many people are waiting too long for vital support.
My problems were far from a walk in the park (although our Ecotherapy report showed that this may have helped me), but I'm very aware that many people are facing much more severe mental health problems and much more difficult circumstances. Our work on Crisis Care has created real momentum to improve services so that people get the support and respect they need when things get particularly tough, and our joint work with Victim Support is looking to improve support for people with mental health problems who are victims of crime.
I'm really proud of all the work the Policy and Campaigns team has done this year, but I know that many of you have also had really difficult years and it may well feel like things are getting worse rather than better, despite the progress we've made. It would be great to hear about your reflections on the year in the comments below, and issues you would like us to try and tackle next year. We couldn't do any of this without your support and, if you're not already signed up as a campaigner, it would be great to have you fighting alongside us in 2014.
Finally, although I know many people don’t find this an easy time of year for various reasons, I wanted to wish everyone a happy and peaceful festive break.
Tom Pollard - Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer