On World Mental Health day this year campaigners in Norwich marched to demand better services. Regrettably, I could not join the march. Here is my message for World Mental Health Day, and my expression of support for the campaigners:
Like many of you here today I think I’ve now lost count of the number of protests, picket lines, public meetings and lobbies of Parliament I’ve now attended in the pursuit of a very humble and very simple expectation: that of a functioning mental health care service.
Back in 2011 I stood as a parliamentary candidate on a picket line with striking mental health staff- who warned me then of what was coming with the then disasterous reorganisation of services coupled with austerity. More than a decade later and that warning is still ringing in my ears – the consequences of which have been far worse than either they or I could ever imagine.
It’s a roll-call of not just shame but of death and misery on a disasterous scale. Thousands of unnecessary deaths – a scandal perhaps on the scale of Stafford Hospital scandal; a long term collapse of staff morale and a subsequent staffing crisis; chronic underfunding and carousel of systemic management failure that continues to this very day.
How many more deaths, how many delays, and how many warnings must there be, before somebody takes responsibility and initiates the action that is clearly needed, namely: a community-led service restructure; an emergency funding package; and a long-term plan for workforce recruitment and retention?
Now then is the time for service users, trade unions and the wider workforce, and the public health community, to be entrusted with the tools and resources to rebuild the Trust from the bottom up. It is the people of Norfolk and Suffolk, not a conveyor belt of Managers, who will be best placed to create a trust that is comprehensive, community-based, and with localised services.
These are our demands and ones I have and will continue to make in parliament, to the Department of Health and the Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Health Care body.
But let me end on something that is sometimes overlooked when we discuss the ‘crisis of mental health’. The massive surge in the demand for mental health services isn’t coincidental, it hasn’t just happened at random. The reality is we have a Government and an economic system that is quite literally driving people insane.
There is now a growing body of evidence to suggest it is our current approach to the economy, driven in no small part by successive Governments, that is responsible for the growing incidence of mental illness.
This approach is driving a race to the bottom on working conditions; low pay; poor terms and conditions. It is an economy designed to engorge get-rich-quick landlords, developers, and speculators. A system that treats essential public services like water, energy and elderly social care – which should be freely accessible to all – into financial assets that are becoming increasingly unaffordable for many.
So let us see this struggle for our mental health services as part of the broader struggle for a democracy where human worth and status isn’t reduced to what you own, what you consume and how profitable you are to others. Rather it is one that empowers people and communities, nurtures them, protects them and places collective well-being over individual and corporate greed.
That is our challenge, our hope, and our political North Star in these coming dark years.