11,840,000 lives written off. Anyone think that’s fair?

Saturday 10th October is World Mental Health Day and this year’s theme is ‘dignity’. Can there be dignity in mental health? There should be, but a lot needs to change. For a start, mental health issues need to be put on an equal footing with physical health complaints and that means more than just throwing the phrase ‘parity of esteem’ into a conversation.

Hot air just goes round in circles (it’s true – remember convection currents from science lessons?) and the fact of the matter is that whilst 92% of people with physical health problems receive the treatment they need, only 26% of people with mental health problems do. Let’s just take a moment to allow that to sink it.

Only 26% of people with mental health issues receive the treatment they need to recover.

There’s no way of getting round it, we need a huge increase in funding for mental health care and despite the government’s well worn spin around how much they’re investing, the truth of the matter is that mental health funding had actually fallen by 8.25% whilst demand had increased.

So why has this been allowed to happen? Because of the prejudices of society. Think about it. People’s negative attitudes mean a broken and inadequate care system is seen as acceptable. At best these inequalities just aren’t on people’s radars as being important. I know my CNS readers are a pretty compassionate, clued up bunch, so you might be surprised that I’m still writing about the prejudices that exist around mental health. But not everyone’s like you.

A survey by Time To Change found that 69% of mental health service users had been treated differently because of their mental health problems, and 71% reported that the attitudes of others stop them from doing things they want to do. I did a quick survey of my own at the weekend, asking Facebookers what unhelpful preconceptions they’ve heard around mental health issues. Responses came in thick and fast.  It’s gone on long enough now. She needs to just move on…‘, ‘it’s put on – she seemed fine when I last saw her‘ and ‘it’s just a cry for help‘ are just three of the comments that were shared.

These comments are so incredibly damaging and yet seem perfectly acceptable to a large proportion of our society. And what they add up to is a complete lack of dignity for people with mental health issues. We’re regularly mocked and ridiculed by other people (and then told we can’t take a joke), our experiences are belittled or entirely rejected, usually whilst someone is telling us that we ‘must be confused’ and when you’re trying to put the work in you need to recover you’re given no support. And that means you fail. The upshot of a meeting I had last week to discuss the complete lack of care I’m receiving was that I won’t get any until I’m in crisis. Hello? That’s  my life you’re messing around with – and I mean that in a very literal sense.

It’s not that you can’t recover from mental health issues, it’s that we’re not given the opportunity to do so. Treatments that work are not made available to us and society is happily ignorant of the daily battles we face. It beats us down every time we try to make some progress. Please, for me and my fellow sufferers, it has to change.

Statistics suggest that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health issues in any given year. There are 64 million people living in Britain. That’s 16 million people with mental health issues – and as only 26% receive the treatment they need to recover, that’s 11,840,000 people whose lives have been effectively written off by current government policies. That’s the entire population of London. And Birmingham. And Manchester – all put together. 11.84 million people who have been brought up to believe that they live in a country where health care is free and will be there to care for them when they need it. People like me, who have paid into the system all their working life to find that they’ve been abandoned.

There is no dignity in mental health issues. There will be none until the prejudices that surround us are challenged. There can be no dignity when you have to fight and beg for your very existence. There can be no dignity until the people in power approach our plight with compassion, understanding and commitment. Things have to change and that change will only come if we let our voices be heard. If we won’t allow ourselves to be shamed into silence.

That is why I’ll keep writing CNS. That is why I’ll never stop campaigning.


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