Bry­ony Gor­don How to make it to the end of Sober Oc­to­ber

The Daily Telegraph - - News Review & Features -

Peo­ple are ready to talk – but there are no re­sources to help, when they do

You would have to be liv­ing un­der a rock to not know that this week it was World Men­tal Health Day. The Gov­ern­ment put on a Global Min­is­te­rial Men­tal Health Sum­mit on the banks of the Thames, invit­ing politi­cians and ac­tivists from all over the planet, in an at­tempt to po­si­tion the UK as a world leader in men­tal health. It’s not hard to po­si­tion your­self as a world leader in men­tal health when, in many coun­tries, the men­tally ill still get chained to beds and locked away in in­sti­tu­tions that would strug­gle even to be classed as asy­lums.

Theresa May an­nounced that there would be a min­is­ter for sui­cide pre­ven­tion, and that chil­dren would now have their men­tal health as­sessed in schools from the age of four. Mean­while, Health Sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock said again and again that he would make sure that men­tal health had true par­ity of es­teem with phys­i­cal health. We’ve been hear­ing that one now for years, as if say­ing it re­peat­edly might some­how work as an in­can­ta­tion and, sud­denly, mag­i­cally make it true.

Sadly it doesn’t. For that, bud­gets need to be ring-fenced, wait­ing list stan­dards need to be in­tro­duced, and ill chil­dren need to stop be­ing told they’re not ill enough to qual­ify for im­me­di­ate care. Try to imag­ine an NHS that only took pa­tients with the most ad­vanced can­cer, or ones who had been triaged from se­ri­ous car ac­ci­dents. Ev­ery­one else must go home and wait for six months. If they’re lucky.

Of course, these huge global men­tal health events and in­ter­na­tional days are cru­cial in that they pro­vide char­i­ties and ac­tivists with an op­por­tu­nity to high­light to the pub­lic much needed change. I take part in them ev­ery year, like an earth­worm dug up once ev­ery Oc­to­ber and then again the fol­low­ing May, for Men­tal Health Aware­ness Week, by com­pa­nies and brands keen to spread our shared mes­sage that it’s OK to say, and it’s good to talk, and that you do not have to be ashamed of the stuff in your head.

This is im­por­tant, be­cause we know that no­body has ever got bet­ter from a men­tal ill­ness by not talk­ing about it. But sim­ply say­ing it and be­ing able to say it to a sup­port­ive friend or fam­ily mem­ber is not a so­lu­tion in it­self, as I sus­pect Theresa May hopes it might be. Peo­ple are ready to talk. They just find that when they do, there are no re­sources avail­able to help them.

A sui­cide pre­ven­tion min­is­ter is a good thing, of course – one that has joked about jump­ing off Beachy Head, as Jackie Doyle-price did in 2014, less so.

It is telling that shortly af­ter an­nounc­ing it, Theresa May used the phrase “com­mit sui­cide” not once, not twice but three times dur­ing Prime Min­is­ter’s Ques­tions. To many, this may seem in­nocu­ous. To groups such as the Sa­mar­i­tans, which have long cam­paigned to an end to such lan­guage be­cause it harks back to a time when sui­cide was a crime, it is not.

It is well known that one of the small­est, sim­plest acts of sui­cide pre­ven­tion is chang­ing the lan­guage around it, mak­ing our­selves sen­si­tive not just to those who have been be­reaved by sui­cide, but also to peo­ple who are liv­ing with sui­ci­dal thoughts that are, through age-old lan­guage, deemed some­how sin­ful or crim­i­nal. You would hope that a Prime Min­is­ter who took men­tal health se­ri­ously would know this.

Sim­i­larly, it is great that chil­dren will have their men­tal well­be­ing as­sessed. But we al­ready know that there are thou­sands of very ill chil­dren out there who are be­ing failed by Bri­tain’s child and ado­les­cent men­tal health ser­vices, as was ex­posed last month in Sean Fletcher’s ex­cel­lent Panorama episode, Kids in Cri­sis (it is on the BBC iplayer now, should you want to watch it). Get­ting psy­chi­atric care for his ex­tremely un­well son re­quired Fletcher and his wife to have a sort of break­down, too.

An in­vest­ment in men­tal health is, to many, a com­plete no-brainer. Poor men­tal health has se­ri­ous ram­i­fi­ca­tions that can be seen in our prisons, in un­em­ploy­ment fig­ures, and even in the obe­sity cri­sis.

Brexit may seem like the big­gest is­sue of our time, but the true cri­sis fac­ing our na­tion – the lack of care given over to its men­tal health – is be­ing treated by the Gov­ern­ment like some sort of trendy tick-box ex­er­cise. This week, it felt as if Theresa May couldn’t even be both­ered to give an en­tire day over to the cause – per­haps half of it, at most. She would do well to re­mem­ber that, for 16mil­lion peo­ple in the UK, it is World Men­tal Health Day ev­ery day.

Mrs May: wrong to say ‘com­mit sui­cide’

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