I was pleased to be at the launch of a new implementation strategy for mental health on Tuesday. There were two things about the approach that made its epical for me.
The first was that it brought mental health activity out into the open. This is considerable progress. Earlier this year 4 MPs told the House how they suffered from mental health issues which had played a major part in their lives. That took real courage because it is too easy for society as a whole to descend into snide remarks about mental illness. “I’ve always thought that he’s a nutter” and similar bon mots being typical of what people suffer.
In fact mental illness is something that will affect 25% of us at some time in our lives. For many of us it will pass. We get through the slough of despond which is making us depressed. But for many a range of mental illnesses will be with them all their lives.
Perhaps the best known person in the UK to suffer from acute depression was Winston Churchill who suffered from ‘the Black Dog’. No-one would say that the illness diminished him. Perhaps it is because we cannot see it that we fear it more than any other illness and perhaps it is this fear that makes us respond with mockery and abuse.
The second thing was that this the first time that I have seen a ‘Government’ implementation strategy drawn up for which most of the work and thinking – and subsequently delivery was done not by civil servants but by the voluntary sector. Organisations like Mind, Sane and Turning Point have worked with the government to come up with options and actions which are deliverable. Crucially, however, they can only be delivered by all of us working together. Each of us delivering our bit but doing so as part of a united whole.
The earlier strategic document made clear that early intervention is the key to massive savings in cost to government and society but more importantly in social cost to sufferers and their family. We can all do more to recognise early signs of mental illness. Early recognition should then lead to early treatment which could avoid the worst effects.
The strategy is filled with practical ideas for councils housing providers, volunteers, carers and health professionals. I hope that we really can get together to deliver this agenda.
I was also pleased that Nick was there to launch the strategy alongside Paul Burstow. Mental health is not fashionable – there are no votes in it but it is a subject that Nick has always been interested in. Indeed some of his first interventions in the House related to mental illness. Sometimes someone is needed to stand up for the people who cannot speak up for themselves even if there are few, if any, votes in it.
In Liverpool I will be pressing for the sort of joined up action that the strategy recommends. I hope that I will be pushing on an open door.
THE Government Strategy –“ No Health without Mental Health” is available FOC on the Department of Health website http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/index.htm