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Tue, 22 September 2020

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Mind matters: the politics of mental health

Mind matters: the politics of mental health

Mind | Mind

5 min read Partner content

Mental health has risen up in political agenda in recent years as parliamentarians have been increasingly willing to show their support.

Support and recognition of the importance of the issue has sprung forth from leading figures in each of the main political parties during this Parliament.         

The Liberal Democrats have been particularly vocal in their commitment on the subject, with Nick Clegg pledging to end the “second-class treatment that people with mental health issues have had to endure for decades.”  

Ed Miliband has also committed the Labour party to improving services and will include key promises on early intervention and mental health resources for children in its 10-year plan for the NHS.
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In a landmark commons debate in 2012 MPs from across the political spectrum made moving admissions on how they had coped with various forms of mental health issues.

Labour MP Kevan Jones described a battle with “deep depression” and Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston revealed that she had suffered “severe” postnatal depression that left her suicidal.     

Mental health charity Mind welcomes the progress that has been made on addressing the stigma associated with mental health and has led the way with its Time to Change campaign (run with partner charity Rethink Mental Illness), which aims to end discrimination faced by sufferers.

As the general election approaches Mind is now keen to use the momentum that has been created to secure better funding for the sector.   

Mind’s CEO Paul Farmer says that “broadly speaking the rhetoric is fine but the reality is that many still aren’t getting the help that they need

“You could characterise the last five years in parliamentary terms as being the period of awareness where people have really been genuinely engaging and learning about it.

“From our point of view over the next five years, whoever is in power, it is all about the phase of action, so that that awareness and interest is turned into policy change.”

The charity would like to see mental health achieve “parity of esteem” with physical health and is calling for a funding increase of 10% over the next five years to implement the necessary changes.

Mr Farmer says this level of financial support is needed to correct “a very long term historical underfunding of mental health…

“We have pitched it there because in our calculation it really ought to be a more than that but we are being realistic about what we think is achievable in the current financial context.

“The kind of support that we would need, particularly to address having in place a basic suite of access standards and waiting times across mental health: that’s the kind of money you would need to do that.”

Improving care and resources has become increasingly necessary following the emergence of a number of worrying trends.

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics the suicide rate among men in the UK is at its highest since 2001, with 19 in every 1,000 men taking their own lives in 2013.  

Data on the number of people taking antidepressants and being sectioned is similarly alarming as both are rising.

There are “enough warning signs to tell us that the need to invest in this area is quite urgent,” Mr Farmer says.

A particular area of concern for Mind is crisis care.

A recent incident which highlights the issue occurred in November last year, when the Devon and Cornwall assistant chief constable raised a case on Twitter of a young woman with mental health problems who was being kept in a police cell because no beds were available.

Paul Netherton wrote: “The 16yr old was detained on Thursday night, sectioned Friday lunchtime and still no place of safety available. This can't be right!

"Custody on a Fri & Sat night is no place for a child suffering mental health issues. Nurses being sourced to look after her in custody!?!"

The priority for crisis care going forward should be “speedy access into an appropriate place to be assessed, an appropriate level of beds and if necessary specialist beds so people are getting the right kind of help and support,” according to Mr Farmer.

The Mind CEO also suggests that there is a need for a more diverse range of options for patients.

“We know that the whole package around crisis care isn’t just about beds because people tell us they really benefit from being able to go to, say, a crisis house, which would be a more community-based thing rather than going into a bed,” he says.

Care for patients who reach crisis point is a priority for the charity, but it is also focused on prevention and encouraging good mental health in an effort to reduce the need for emergency services.

Mind would like to see a national strategy on wellbeing, which would raise the status of maintaining good mental health at all stages of life, from better teaching in schools to dealing with age-related issues such as loneliness and isolation. 

Mr Farmer says: “We have all have mental health in the same way as we experience physical health and yet, whilst there has been a lot of thought an attention paid to how we manage and look after our physical health in all kinds of shapes and forms, there hasn’t been the same kind of conversation about mental health and wellbeing and resilience. So, we are arguing that in the public health space there should be an investment in a national wellbeing and resilience strategy.”

Read the most recent article written by Mind - In Parliament

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