For those of us who have a long-held commitment to seek improvements to mental health provision and to change attitudes, the progress that is being made often feels painfully slow and frustrating. When I look back at the way in which mental ill-health and those who experienced it were treated only a generation or so ago however, it is right to remind ourselves how far we have come. Take the world of politics, for example. In the cut and thrust of political life, having a mental health issue was seen as a sign of weakness. In short, it was something to be hidden away and never spoken about. In recent years, this has changed. I have taken part in Commons debates where fellow MPs have spoken openly and bravely about the issues they have faced. We have changed the law to end automatic disqualification from being a juror, an MP and a Company director for those who experience a mental health episode. The stigma that has surrounded the state of our minds for too long is at last being broken down.
The creation last year of Conservatives for Mental Health was a further important step in this process. I want to pay tribute to CMH’s founder and director, my constituent Drusilla Summers, who works tirelessly to raise awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues. Drusilla and Conservatives for Mental Health are making an invaluable contribution by working alongside MPs and Ministers to develop new and better approaches to this issue.
The Conservative Government’s commitment to improvements to the treatment of mental health is clear. We are increasing funding by £1.4b in real terms by 2020, and plan to expand the number of mental health staff by 10,000 over the next few years.
Some of the statistics that surround mental health are alarming. Suicide remains the greatest case of death for males under the age of 45, and one in four fourteen-year-old girls have complained of depression. Through the targeted use of this new funding, and the creation of new bodies such as Independent Mental Health Taskforce, I hope to see further improvement in the future.
As a backbench MP, I actively campaigned to help secure new waiting time measurements for the treatment of mental health, to help make the concept of parity of esteem a reality. It was our Government who placed this principle into law, but it will only come about if we are able to measure the outcomes and the treatment times in the same way that we do with physical ailments. This is why the introduction of new waiting time standards from 2014 by this Government was a vital initiative.
From my many years as a criminal barrister, I gained much knowledge and experience of mental health and the criminal justice system. I am delighted that we will replace the outdated Mental Health Act 1983 with new legislation that takes into account the latest thinking as to the most appropriate treatment of people with mental health conditions. I am proud that we have already ended the use of police cells as places of safety for people with suspected mental health issues, building on this Government’s implementation of the Bradley Report proposals concerning alternatives to arrest and detention in police custody of people with mental health problems.
We have come a long way in only a short time, and with the help of Conservatives For Mental Health, I am confident that we will make further strides forward in the years ahead.