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Good to see Ed Miliband focusing on economic as well as social gains of changed attitudes to mental health

Posted on 29 October 2012 | 11:10am

Ed Miliband’s speech on mental health today is a significant – and good – moment in the campaign to improve understanding and treatment of mental illness in Britain.

It is perhaps particulalry significant that this is his first major policy speech since he launched the theme of One Nation Labour at the party conference a few weeks ago. Because if one of the messages of One Nation is that nobody should be left behind, then clearly there’s a lot of work still to be done to ensure those with mental health problems still get to play a full and fulfilling role in society. Let’s be honest about this – amid the austerity programme, and the cuts, Britain is going backwards on this.

That is why equally significant is the economic focus of Ed’s speech, and the observation that the question is less ‘what is this going to cost?’ than ‘how much are we losing as a country by failing to tackle this?’ So the issue for campaigns like Time to Change, of which I am an ambassador, is not just breaking down the stigma and the taboo and the discrimination, important though that is. It is also about persuading government and business that economically we pay a price in not doing so.

Ed tells the story of a constituent who, at a vulnerable moment in his life, as a relative died and his marriage collapsed, was lured into heroin addiction. The cost to the State since is infinitely larger than the few hours of grief counselling and therapy that might just have kept him from falling into that horrible addiction, and ruining his life for years. Yet still therapy tends to be seen as a luxury add on, not the genuine need it may be. When commentators like Janet Street-Porter describe depression as ‘the latest must have accessory’ you realise how far we still have to go in the fight for decency and proper understanding. Would she say the same about AIDS, or cancer, or a broken neck, or would she say these are ‘proper illnesses’ whereas mental illness is not?

Campaigns like Time to Change, and charities like MIND and Rethink Mental Illness, can help to change attitudes. But even in an era of greater cynicism about politics, do not underestimate the impact of the leader of the Opposition stating so clearly his Party’s commitment to a new approach to mental health. Likewise, Nick Clegg has made clear his strong support for Time to Change and for better services and understanding for mental ill health. The media has a role to play too and some play it well, and were rightly praised in today’s speech. But mental illness is not deemed to be a ‘sexy’ subject and therefore it tends to get relegated down the news agenda. The media today has a responsibility to give proper coverage to the speech Ed Miliband is making, and to launch a proper debate around it.

Change comes when people fight for change to happen. In recent weeks, Sue Baker of Time to Change and I have visited several of our top banks, and have been impressed by their desire to do something about changing attitudes of bosses and staff alike. Ed pointed out how a different approach by British Telecom led to them saving rather than losing money, by investing in proper mental health care for their staff, and by actively fighting discrimination.

If we can adopt that approach not just as individuals or as companies, but as a nation, we will all be better off. Done properly, it will save money, boost productivity, strengthen the UK socially and economically.

When I spoke at the ‘Hear Us’ group of Mental Health users in Croydon last week, I said that I thought we were a decade or two behind the tipping point moments which led to huge attitudinal change in the campaigns for racial equality, women’s equality, gay rights. Hopefully Ed’s speech has accelerated that process. I now look forward to hearing from Jeremy Hunt and David Cameron on the subject.

  • Personal experience has taught me that more often than not it isn’t the top managers that struggle with having employees who have or who are suffering with mental illness. It’s the middle managers who fail to see the benefit of having healthy supported employees. I’m so pleased that the Labour Party are treating this as a real issue. As a depressive sufferer I have experienced the “leper colony” treatment by this I mean depressed = difficult to manage. I feel that we need to grasp the opportunity of changing how we treat people. There was a recent programme which looked at the role of the emergency services, very kind, caring treatment of a gentleman suffering from a schizophrenic episode. It made me think about how terrifying mental illness is not for the onlookers but for those trapped with overwhelming thoughts. Ignorance on this issue is the most frightening thing. Miliband’s speech will come in for criticism because it is Ed, however Dodgy Dave needs to overlook his distaste for the British public and follow the lead into making Britain a place of supported sufferers and happy depressives.
    Hopefully that at least made sense to most of you as the laptop is playing up. Happy Monday

  • Anonymous

    Ed & co. need to get on the case of our wobbly future energy policy since there looks there will be a “lights going out” crisis in a few years if the country carries on as it is.

    CO2 reduction actions are a shambles, we are importing more and more coal, since it is cheap at the moment. And it looks the US will be self-sufficient in energy in a few years, due to shale-gas exploration technology exploiting their reserves in their land.
    The EU is all over the place with an energy policy, with Germany one of those, surprising, in a mess with one.

    And yes, regarding an healthy and balanced attitude to all health matters is required, which should be as a matter of course, rather than used cheaply to fill papers. And that tory MP from the other day is an idiot, who no doubt said what he said to fill said, and deflect issues being suffered recently by Dave C.

  • Mark Wright

    Attitudes *are* gradually changing. Even through such a non-scientific medium as Facebook I have noticed over the past couple of years that some friends on my Timeline are far more open to discussing their own mental health; be it in a direct manner or by cut and pasting other messages.
    This can only be a positive thing. What is also positive is the overwhelming response of support that follows. No snarky comments, no cheap gags, just unqualified positivity.
    I equate mental health, and the manner in which it has been overlooked and ignored over past decades, to be the health equivalent of the financial debt bubble. If w do not tackle this effectively the consequences have the potential to be just as severe.
    It is an important thing that Ed Miliband is doing today and demonstartes that his motivation for public service goes beyond pruely partisan lines.

  • Anonymous

    Press freedom. Alastair wants an end to press freedom, making the usual mistake of assuming that just because we have a centre left and liberal government and establishment now in charge of the conservatives and the EU, that we always will have.
    But Alastair, what about in the future whenever excessive socialism fails and like Uk in 1970, Sweden, Canada and Australia we are left with no choice but to elect a hardline rightwing government. What happens when they start putting people on workfare, dumping poor, sick and disabled people on the street and controlling the press who might want to report on that?!
    Please don’t pretend such bodies can be independent.

  • Anonymous

    I am not a fan of David Cameron, but I like to think he would have sound instincts on the matter of mental health.
    Nonetheless, it is good that Ed Miliband has set the bar, so we will see.

    What I would like to see, and I don’t know how it can be achieved, is some kind of scheme for people with mental health issues to work. We once used to give certain jobs to disabled people, such as the people who collect money in car parks. I think there are a lot of jobs that can be done from home and not on a 9-5 basis, for example sales, insurance sales or whatever, certain IT development work, and I’m sure some public sector casework.
    I’d like to see a company or an agency recognise this and create work for the mentally ill. I have a relative who suffers from this and it is human interaction that goes for her, give her some freelance creative work that can be done from home and she is fine – surely in the age of the internet there are solutions?

  • My husband was referred for CBT in July 2011 for a stress/anxiety disorder. He had to wait 15 months for treatment which has just begun. During the wait he lost his executive post, our kids and I were traumatised by his increasingly irrational behaviour and we may yet have to sell our home. When I complained I was told that if we had lived in Hull, 16 miles away, he would have had treatment within 13 weeks! The loss to the economy is real, my husband’s job has been outsourced from the UK. The other costs including ambulance services, social services, and the impact on our children etc… is not quantified
    If someone with Cancer or heart disease had had the same wait there would have been a public outcry but because it is mental health we have to suffer in silence and be blamed and labelled. I am in dispair.
    If ED wants a lay person for his task force I am ready, willing and able!

  • Anonymous

    Know it is not exactly the right thing to say, since the NHS means everything to me, and wish the bureaucrats in it would stop fiddling with it, BUT, I advise anyone in said position to privately see a psychotherapist as soon as possible when the mind gets in this sort of rational/irrational muddle.

    But yes there is a danger you do get in a trap with said bureaucrats in the NHS that you have gone down the “private” lines, so lose your place on waiting lists. But I think that is better than hanging on, in the long run.

    Maybe someone here could shed light on it with their experiences, the line drawn between private and NHS treatment, and how it interacts, if it does.

  • Anonymous

    Seven and a half million without leccy across the pond due to hurricane Sandy-man. Act of Allah no doubt some would say in the World.

    Song for east coasters, to help keep their chins up with the wrath of Mother Nature. Yes Allah, Mother Nature – she rules the roost, at the end of the day, and all that,

    Magical song and third-party video interpretation by Prof Odd, a modern artist from the east coast, who I have spoken to now and then in the past, and a proper gent he is.

  • Anonymous

    ….or I should have said, Trick or Treat? : )

    Sorry, had to be said. When I was young, halloween was just another night, without parents having to buy sweeties ready, in case your front garden gets trashed by imported yank little kiddies.

    Funny ey? Well I think it is, quite world ironic. VOTE OBAMA, by the way, yankies. : )

  • Anonymous

    President Blair eh! Blog please Alastair!

  • Anonymous

    It is very important to tackle inequalities in Mental Health. I cannot help thinking that Ed Milibands speech has given Alistair the basis to build a personal interest or an empire. Time has given the opportunity for people to Change views and opinions. Alistair you once said Ed would be a disaster as leader of the Labour Party. You now crown him as the saviour of Mental Health after one speech.

    It is sad for individuals and their families to experience a loved one who have had mental health issues. This comes in various forms. A speech borne out of a policy review group does not give an idea its value. Where is the historical link behind such a speech. Institution bashing is no substitute for real change.

    . “Change comes when the electorate see the benefits and advantages of fighting for change to happen”.
    New Labour has created a taboo of toying with market economics in Education and Health. In education it was a disaster. There were no social gains only social pains. The Norms and values that Blairism imparted onto society has pushed Mental Health into the spotlight. It would be interesting to see whether the impact of Mental Health on society increased under New Labour, of which you were part Alistair
    Institutions! Institutions! Institutions!
    National Health Service
    National Care Service
    National Mental Health Service.
    National Time to Change Service
    A new revised post war consensus of the 21st Century.

    You are very intelligent man Alistair. Spin, Propaganda, Manufacturing Consent were your tools for changing attitudes. History states that spin doctors never change therefore the fight was never there.

  • Anonymous

    Think he would do a good job.

    Got to face facts reaguns, don’t think there is anyone around better, considering. He’s never picked anyone’s backpockets, allegedly.

  • Anonymous

    And furthermore, why is no yank media reporter, let alone Mitt or Obama, is saying the elephant in the room, that it will take weeks to pump out the seawater from the tunnels of their underground trains and car tunnels, and underground carparks, in NYC. Let alone get the leccy up and running for the surrounding states fiftyish million people.

    And even more Nellie the elephant, say put off next weeks election. with a two months postponement, at least. Seems quite obvious to me, here in little Wales/Cymru.

  • Anonymous

    Ok ok ok, for you all that want to hear the Nellie the elephant song, I know you want to hear it, so don’t deny you didn’t want to, Nellie,

    Could be a theme song for Sandy, come to think of it, but that is me. I’ll post a democrat donkey later…. : ) Yes, to me, Mitt is a bit of a Nellie, but that is me.

  • reaguns

    Yeah but think how the left wing would feel if the position was “President of the British Empire” or “dictator of the British Empire / United States of Europe / EUSSR” etc. They might think Blair would be good at the job – but that the job shouldn’t exist. Thats what I feel.
    But Blair, Brown, Clegg, Cameron and many others are power mad and plain old UK prime minister is not enough, they want the status of a US president. I’d have to say the only way in which I’d like the EU president to be like the US president is that I hope a good few of them get shot!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks goodness they have seen sense to cancel tomorrow’s marathon in NYC Alastair.
    Bizarre rabbits caught in the headlamps carry on – I feel sorry for all those that have travelled from all over the World to be there for it. Anyway, the organisers can always give them a shovel and a wheelbarrow and help out. AHHHH, that must have been the grand plan, I get it now, silly me! : )

  • Anonymous

    Thanks goodness they have seen sense to cancel tomorrow’s marathon in NYC Alastair.
    Bizarre rabbits caught in the headlamps carry on – I feel sorry for all those that have travelled from all over the World to be there for it. Anyway, the organisers can always give them a shovel and a wheelbarrow and help out. AHHHH, that must have been the grand plan, I get it now, silly me! : )