Spotting Invisible Wounds

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’

A saying that dates back to 1862, passed down through the generations; it embodies those British stereotypes of supressing emotions and stiffening the upper-lip.

Yet old adages contain old ideas, and such sayings standardise a stigma that we now need to move beyond: how we speak about mental health problems.

World Mental Health Day on Tuesday reminded us that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children are affected by mental illnesses.  The majority do not speak up and do not seek help.

By changing the way we discuss mental illnesses, we can start to provide people the support they need.

That’s why I am proud of this Government’s record investment in mental healthcare; mental and physical health now have parity in law.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced a review of the Mental Health Act to tackle longstanding injustices in our mental health system.  It’s about helping some of the most vulnerable in society.

It’s also about relieving our straining public services.  The NHS’s challenge with mental illnesses is marked by a 43 per cent increase in detainments within the past decade alone.  Around 40 per cent of police business in Kent is concerned with mental health problems.

To deal with this, we’ve increased the number of psychiatric consultants and we’ve taken steps to ensure that many thousands more young people will receive the right treatment at the right time by 2020.

Compared to 2010, 40 per cent more people access mental health services every day.  The number of mental health patients being held inappropriately in police cells is also down by 80 per cent over the same period.

We’re lucky that West Kent MIND, which has provided vital support for years, is based in Sevenoaks.  On Tuesday, they held training sessions for schools and businesses to facilitate workplace wellbeing. On Sunday, they’ll host a fun run in Knole Park to raise further awareness.

Tomorrow, I will visit Sevenoaks Hospital to open the new Wound Centre.  But I will remember those wounds that are often just as serious: the ones we cannot see.

Column: We’ve Beaten Mental Health Stigma – Now Let’s Finish the Job

In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about the challenge of mental health:

For too long, mental health was a taboo subject.  But with MPs and celebrities speaking out about their own experiences, much of the stigma that used to be associated with mental illness has gone.

In its place, though, is a realisation of how significant this challenge is for our country.  One in four people experience a mental health problem each year, with myriad effects on their families, jobs and lives.

We have made a lot of progress already.  Mental health now has parity of esteem with physical health in the NHS; five times more people are accessing treatment for conditions like depression and anxiety than six years ago; and extra funding is being invested in mental healthcare over the next few years.

But more money and warm words need to mean something practical.  That means coming up with innovative and wide-ranging ways to make sure people get the help they need.

I have recently been meeting local organisations to discuss their efforts to meet this challenge.  Their work includes better liaison services in A&E, provided by Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT).  Another improvement is cooperation between KMPT and Kent Police to give people the care they need, rather than a night in a cell because there is nowhere else to go.  West Kent Mind has always offered a fantastic service to our community that I have been proud to support.  Now it is also providing counsellors, alongside KMPT, to talk to vulnerable callers to the emergency services.

There is still a lot more to do.  People need to be able to find help more easily and the system needs to be simpler.

But with these organisations working together to find the innovative solutions we need, this is a challenge we can beat.

West Kent Mind

west kent mindMichael was a guest at West Kent Mind’s Annual General Meeting in Sevenoaks on 23rd July. Speaking at the event, Michael praised Mind’s work over the past year and the huge range of its activities.  He emphasized Parliament’s commitment that mental health should be taken just as seriously as physical health, and he outlined government support for mental health services: a further £1.25 billion was being ring-fenced for mental health as a result of this year’s Budget, and most of this would go to ensuring that waiting times for treatment and therapy were met.  Recruitment of therapists would be improved in each region.