We have all heard the statistic that 1 in 4 of us will have a common mental health problem at any one time - I am one of those. For most of my adult life, I have experienced anxiety and panic attacks, which at their worst left me feeling trapped in my home, too anxious to go outside. With the support of my family, and some counselling, I have found ways to manage my anxiety and cope when panic attacks happen, but this is not always the outcome for those suffering.
There are still too many cases of local services and places of safety being moved out of communities, suicide is still the biggest killer of young men (although the overall suicide rate is coming down), and the rise of social media has made the bullying of young people, far too easy. The Prime Minister, Theresa May recognised this in her speech at the Charity Commission’s annual meeting in January 2017. She spoke of the “burning injustice of mental health” and the need to “employ the power of government as a force for good to transform the way we deal with mental health problems right across society”.
Progress is already being made by this Conservative government to put actions to the Prime Minister’s words; this government was the first to set up waiting times for mental health, the Health and Social Care Secretary, Jeremy Hunt has confirmed investment in 10,000 more NHS mental health staff, a £300 million funding plan for children and young people’s mental health provision as part of a new green paper, and new measures to prevent suicides in mental health units. Add to this the announcement of an independent review of the Mental Health Act 1983, and we have a real opportunity to reform the way we approach mental health.
This reform is about having an open and honest debate about the challenges facing mental health services, and finding ways to not only to provide more funding where needed, but also consider a change in our approach to services; not only looking at the amount of funding, but ensuring the money is used effectively, and that patients are given more control of how they are treated, so it is better tailored to their needs.
In any government or political party, even with the best intentions, changing priorities and new challenges can sometimes hamper progress, and mental health is too important an issue to allow that to happen. That is why I launched Conservatives for Mental Health, to bring together mental health professionals, charities and Conservative Party members, to tackle the stigma surrounding mental illness, promote mental wellbeing and keep mental health a priority. The response so far has been positive, with 15 MPs becoming patrons and Parliamentary Assistant, Jed Dwight joining me as Policy Officer.
With our main areas of focus this year being suicide prevention, and children and young people's mental health, we are planning several events, and working with MPs and charities to share learnings and bring about further improvements to mental health care. My hope though, is that one day in the not-too-distant future, there will no longer be the need for an initiative like Conservatives for Mental Health to exist, and that mental health will be well and truly part of everyday discussion, and the difficulties facing its services, will be firmly in the past.