The Conservatives’ stance on mental health is all talk and no action says Lauren Chassebi, lifestyle and mental health blogger based in London, UK.
Last week, on Wednesday 10th October, the world celebrated World Mental Health Day. Although maybe celebrated is the wrong word in this instance. For me and anyone else who struggles with their mental health regularly, every day is a mental health awareness day. However this dedicated day in October every year is a great way to give some prominence to the subject, and to make sure that everybody is talking about it.
The week before I received an email from 10 Downing Street asking me to attend their official reception to mark World Mental Health Day. The event would involve Theresa May and other prominent members of her party, as well as high profile mental health advocates around the UK. The aim of this event was to show the government’s solidarity with those struggling with their mental health, and to raise awareness for the cause.
When I first received the email, I was of course very excited to have even been considered to attend such an event. I’m somebody who has always been open to talking about my own mental health, and an advocate for positive mental wellbeing in general. But on thinking a little further, my mind started to become filled with doubts on the message I’d be giving to people if I decided to go. Making real changes to the way that sufferers of mental illness in this country are treated is something I’m very passionate about, and it’s for this reason exactly that I decided not to attend.
In the last 25 years rates of depression in young people have increased by 70%. The number of teens being admitted to hospital for self harm since 2013 has increased by 68%. And yet, despite Conservatives promising real action on mental health, funding remains extremely limited. The Conservative Party has done virtually nothing to help sufferers of mental illness during this period of being in power. In fact, I’d argue that they’ve made living with mental illness even more difficult.
Theresa May and her party have not given sufferers the support which they not only deserve, but fundamentally require. Since 2015 we’ve seen longer waiting lists, reductions in spending on mental health services, and higher thresholds for therapy. Cuts in so many vital areas which have meant that the most vulnerable of people are being left in the dark.
Mental illness is on the rise, and yet funding is not being increased to match this. Over the last eight years mental health trusts have seen £598 million cut from their budgets each year, with 40% of NHS trusts also seeing cuts to mental health services. This is all the Conservative Party’s doing. They’ve taken an all talk but no action perspective on mental illness in the UK. They’ve promised to help end the stigma which still continues to suppress people who suffer with their mental health, but have offered no real assistance in this area and have made it increasingly more difficult for them to seek help.
So for me, an event at Downing Street which is invitation only, and is being held primarily for individuals who I can only assume are white, middle class and able to afford to look after their own mental wellbeing as a priority, is not the direction which the Conservative Party should be taking when it comes to their plan of action. In fact, I think it’s both laughable and incredibly hypocritical that they would host such an event.
Demands for services need to be met and instead of funnelling money into events that make no real change, they need to be focusing on the real issue, which is supporting the vulnerable and finally taking mental illness seriously. Hosting events with the aim of raising awareness and making it acceptable to talk about it 9is of course a good start, but this is grassroots stuff. This isn’t what the party should be making their only priority, and it certainly doesn’t match with the general view they seem to hold of mental illness sufferers – you only have to look at the sheer number of cuts they’ve made to services to see what it is.
The time to start taking mental illness seriously is now. In order to do this, the Conservative Party have a clean up job ahead of them. Cuts need to be reversed, funding needs to be properly implemented and essential services like therapy need to be made more accessible for everyone, not just for those that can afford it.
Before the next World Mental Health day comes around, I hope that they will have done more in these areas than simply hosting events for show and providing no real action. Mental illness needs to be taken seriously by our government and treated in the way that physical health is. For them to succeed in raising awareness of mental illness as this event intended to, they’ll need to put some substance behind their promises.
Read Lauren’s blog here