Both as politician and person, Jeremy Corbyn stitches together controversy with such speed that his policies and achievements can acquire an almost background quality to the tabloid fare around him. Nevertheless, since his election to leader of the opposition, there have been serious and piecemeal and progressive changes to the Labour agenda – not least in regards to the issue of mental health – which are deserving of more consideration.
Lots of politicians think mental health matters; inevitably their own lives will have been touched by it, as 1 in 4 people will have had first-hand experience. But Jeremy has been making waves by being the first leader to prioritise a long-term strategy for mental health, appointing a shadow minister especially dispatched to develop Labour’s policy on the issue. Together they are advocating a progressive policy aimed at reducing disparities between physical and mental health – inequalities in provision of care which have become deeply ingrained – as well as demystifying the negative narratives that often plume around the complex and sensitive issues of psychiatric illness.
The profession is privileged to have the kindness of so many human beings helping one another, but psychiatric care can’t just run off the kindness of strangers. In the UK mental health accounts for only 13% of NHS funding, despite accounting for around 24% of illness. Rethink say the number of people who get the support they need for depression is 25%. The stats stack up and the essence of the problem is simple: there are not enough resources to provide adequate mental health support for everyone who needs it.
Professionals and patients have long campaigned for parity of esteem for physical and mental health. Psychiatric medicine is underfunded. People don’t understand the basics of mental health first aid. And though there is more tolerance and understanding today, the way we think about mental illness is still ingrained with stigma, after centuries of being conditioned to believe it is wrong.
Jeremy Corbyn has said he wants to create a society where inequality and intolerance are no longer tolerated. He wants mental patients to have unrestrained access to medical care. He has proposed to increase budgets; challenge stigma; fund more staff; increase investment in children’s mental health; improve mental health education; undertake a national study in to young people’s mental health; support people out of work due to illnesses, and better understand the disparities in mental health between demographics, and I’m a believer.
Launching his policies, Corbyn said:
Britain has a mental health crisis, and this government is making it worse. The Tory rhetoric about improving mental health provision has been accompanied by cuts in funding, services and support for people with mental health needs. Everyone knows someone who is suffering or has suffered from mental illness. The economic costs of mental illness are huge, and the personal costs are incalculable.
I am committed to a holistic approach that sees emotional wellbeing as fundamentally connected with a society less atomised and individualistic and more socially connected, more caring, more inclusive and more equal. We need a Labour government that will bring this negative narrative on mental health to an end.
That a 21st century state with pretensions to being an equal society can sustain such blatant inequalities in the provision of care is strange. It is holding us back; we have to move on. Hollow rhetoric from the incumbent government is pointless. This is a challenge to cuts; a call to compassion and sensible, level-headed policy.
In recovery, I am still scared by some of my symptoms, but with the resources provided by the NHS I know I have the tools I need to succeed. But without fair funding, it is obvious how far we have left to go.
Image by Chester Frampton