I haven’t written an AotW for some weeks, mainly as I’ve been too mental to actually read anything that I think is worthy of inclusion here. I’m not particularly less mental at the minute, as Monday’s post will presumably attest; however, coverage of the matter that I intend to discuss is hard to miss at the best of times, and especially so when one is a complete current affairs junky. Yes, my dears, that can only mean one thing. I present to you: The Epic Serial Insomniacal Journey into UK Politics and the 2010 Election.
I’m addicted to politics. It drives me round the bend, but I’m addicted to it nevertheless. I received an ‘A’ in my ‘A’ Level in it, and very, very nearly studied at university (the subject that I ended up studying is strongly impacted by it too). I watch Question Time (and scream at the TV) and This Week most weeks, and now that I am a dolescum tend to be hooked on The Daily Politics as well. I watch about three news programmes in a row, at least twice a day, mainly to see what the twats in Westminster, the Dáil and that Godforsaken shithole that is Stormont are doing. I invariably find myself enraged, but always strangely excited at the same time.
Anyway, I’m not going to subject you to a full discussion of the parties and the rhetoric and lies that we can expect from each of them; there’s hundreds of blogs and websites (probably thousands) that will do that for you much more ably than I can. Nevertheless, I’d like to zoom in on a couple of things – specifically, party policies on mental health provision and in particular views from Northern Ireland on same. I was going to do it all in one post, but to my surprise it turns out that it would too big for that. Therefore, today I will bring you…
Mental Health Provision in the Manifestos of Parties in Great Britain
Note that the heading says ‘Great Britain’, and not ‘the UK’. The two are distinct, and (annoyingly for me) that is reflected in the division of political parties. For those not conversant with the bizarre and uncodified constitution of the United Kingdom, ‘Great Britain’ refers to England, Scotland and Wales. These countries – and, let’s face it, in particular England – house the ‘main’ parties of the Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour. Scotland also have the Scottish Nationalist Party, and Wales have Plaid Cymru.
I’m not going to get into a major discussion of any of these parties, mainly as it’s been done elsewhere. Moreover, in some ways what happens in Westminster only tangentially affects us in Northern Ireland – on the other hand, though, they’re still responsible for how much money our Department of Finance receives to spend in whatever way, so in that sense they still have a lot of political clout.
Anyway, Mental Nurse have run a very entertaining and interesting series, known as This Election in Mentalists, exploring the mental health policies (or lack thereof) of the main parties (the title of which as you can see I have stolen). You may notice that I’ve not commented at all in any of the posts, despite being a relative regular over at Mental Nurse; I was scared that I’d get into a fight, to be honest, as I tend to be quite…ahem…’direct’ in my expression of political views. Nothing gets heads rolling more than politics.
So that’s the first article I’d like to mention, but on a similar theme, I was highly dismayed to note in Thursday’s electoral debate between the leaders of the three main parties that – in discussion of the NHS – not one of the three mentioned services for mental illness. Two things struck me about this. Firstly, to ignore this group of conditions in such a blatant and public way is to further distance it from physical illness, which in turn surely adds further fuel to the cruel fire of stigma. Secondly, stigmatised or not, mental illness will affect at least one in four people at some point in their lifetime. That is bound to have a lot of impact on NHS spending and other resources, and on other macro issues such as the economy (owing to days lost to sick leave and whatnot). The parties must surely have a view on this matter.
Well, mercifully, one of them does – and it seems to be a more encouraging outlook than the apparent silence of the others. Unfortunately, despite his current surge in popularity, this man is still the one least likely to end up as the occupant of Number 10 on 7 May. He is Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Now, this article, from politics.co.uk, is slightly out of date, being published as it was in September last year. Nevertheless, everyone knew at that point that a General Election would be called for early May, so it seems reasonable to assume that this information can be included as part of Clegg’s policy concern in the unlikely event that his party forms the next government. (Side note: as things stand, there is a very real possibility of a hung parliament, meaning that although Clegg is unlikely to become PM, the Lib Dems could still form a coalition government with one of the other two parties. That may mean their policies having more weight in Westminster after all, even if still not quite up to the level of a single governing party).
Anyhow, to get to the point (finally), Clegg has pledged to protect mental health services on the NHS from budget cuts specifically related to the recession. It’s a shame that the pledge carries that caveat – shouldn’t we be protecting mental health services from all budget cuts – but nevertheless, it’s a public act of solidarity for those of us using these services, which to the best of my knowledge is a lot more than can be said for David Cameron and Gordon Brown.
As this article points out:
[The NHS area of] Mental health receives only a fraction of the funding awarded to other health conditions such as cancer, even though one in four people will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives.
I find this reality unsurprising, of course, but utterly outrageous all the same. One could argue that cancer is, or at least can be, a fatal disease. Mental illness, in and of itself they might say, is not thus deadly. But is that really true? I don’t have any statistics to hand, but I know the suicide rate in this country is not as low as it should be. If left untreated – or if inadequately treated – suicide is often the natural progression of some of the more severe mental illnesses. So yes, my dears, mental illness certainly is oftentimes deadly.
What is most troubling to my mind is that many suicides could probably have been prevented had there been adequate intervention and/or treatment (as to whether or not suicide is a right, and I actually happen to believe that it is – well, that’s a post for another day). Oh, but the person didn’t seek that help! Quite often this is true, but (a) seeking treatment for mental illness is still horribly and unfairly stigmatised, something that I would like to expect the next government would seek to eradicate through proper investment and (b) I know from bitter experience, and know from the bitter experiences of others, that asking for help – no matter how desperately – does not always (or even often) get you it. Surely these issues are directly correlated with resources invested (or rather not) in mental health services.
As Nick Clegg comments, “It is a false economy not to invest in mental health services.”
Finally for now, I’d like to draw your attention to Rethink’s General Election Campaign. As you may know, Rethink is one of Britain’s largest mental health related charities (sadly they recently demerged from their Northern Ireland branch, now known as Charity A, but they are probably still the most influential lobby group for this demographic in Westminster and therefore still deserve the attention of those of us over here). The election campaign includes a petition that they intend to forward to the next government, that demands better access to services, the tackling of stigma and discrimination, and fairer treatment to prisoners with mental health difficulties. Please go and sign the petition; we really need the new government to take notice.
An excellent suggestion that Rethink make is that if you are ‘doorstepped’ by your local candidates, please ask them what their party’s (and indeed their own individual) policy on mental health provision is.
Tomorrow we move into the murky realms of Northern Ireland politics and ask what the the Unionist parties – the Democratic Unionists and Ulster Unionists – are doing for the mental vote.