By Danny Bowman
In the first two months of 2017 mental health has been talked about more in parliament then in the whole of 2009. This would suggest that we are moving forward on this incredibly important issue.
However, from the potential reduction in Personal Independence Allowance (PIP,) derogatory comments made by the head of policy at Downing Street about individuals with mental health problems, unexpected mental health patient deaths up by 50%, 296,000 police incidents where mental health was a factor, and mental health services cut by £150 million in the last four years, unfortunately it seems that not everyone got the memo.
This simply does not reflect any of Theresa May’s rhetoric around mental health. In her speech on the steps of Downing Street, when she became Prime Minister, she said “if you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand”, that statement pointing out the urgency to address this issue has not been replicated in substance.
The potential reduction in PIP for people suffering from mental health problems, with 160,000 people potentially affected by this change, what does this say about the government’s approach?
To make matters worse for the government George Freeman MP, Head of Policy at Number 10, made incredibly insulting and flippant comments towards people with mental health problems. He stated that these benefits should only go to people who are “really disabled… not people taking pills at home, suffering from anxiety.”
There has been a 50% rise in unexpected deaths in mental health patients in 2016, due, in part, because of the lack of investment in mental health services. In 2012/2013 there were 2,067 unexpected deaths, last year there were 3,160.
It has been recorded that mental health trusts have had their budgets cut by £105 million, even though Theresa May says investment is going up.
This year on behalf of Parliament Street I asked all police forces in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland how many incidents they had attended that had a mental health factor; the results were shocking with almost 300,000 incidents recorded. This inevitably points towards the evident cuts and the lack of resources available to local mental health services, police forces are left to deal with such incidents.
Today Jeremy Corbyn battled it out with Theresa May on mental health at PMQs. With even more rhetoric from the Prime Minister and I cognitively found myself swaying reluctantly with principal towards Labour, I even found myself agreeing with the Shadow Foreign Secretary when she said “well do it.”
As the mental health month at Parliament Street begins, I am looking forward to working alongside my colleagues to help lobby for the changes that are so desperately needed. Whether it is investment in our mental health services, helping mental health sufferers in our welfare system, young people in our schools, or changing perceptions, it is paramount that we address such issues now.
I believe it’s time to really push for action, for the people who are badly suffering from mental illness rhetoric will not help, action will.
Danny Bowman is Mental Health Spokesman for Parliament Street