Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

We could be doing so much more to support mental health

I have never been as open about my mental health as I have about other parts of my life – but the Tory government’s dereliction of duty has brought me to speak out, writes Katie Curtis for Mental Health Awareness Week

Let me take a very deep breath.

Hello, my name is Katie and I suffer with anxiety.

Actually, I have ‘panic disorder and generalised anxiety disorder’ – but what are labels between friends?

This week has been Mental Health Awareness Week and, after scrolling through social media and reading brave decisions by many people to discuss their experiences to confront the stigma, I thought I would come out and talk about my life-long struggles with mental health problems. I am not unique; I am actually one of the one in four people who will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and as a woman I was twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Currently nine out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination, children and young people are being locked up in police cells because there are not enough specialised beds and certainly not enough understanding and people are waiting up to six months for access to NHS talking therapies that are in a lot of instances are inadequate.

I started suffering from panic attacks as a nine-year-old, and have spent my entire adult life fighting this horrible thing. Again, I am not unusual in that respect: 10 per cent of children and young people have a mental health problem, and half of all problems are established by the age of 14.

It is no coincidence that the rise in cases of children and young people needing to access mental health services is linked to the steep rise of child poverty and the continuing impact of benefit cuts to the poorest and most vulnerable. Poverty has a devastating impact on children’s life chances and their emotional well-being. Any programme that is designed to eradicate child poverty needs to be designed to above all improve mental health and well-being.

The government needs to put money where its mouth is and provide local authorities and health and wellbeing boards with the funding to allow for the commissioning of effective mental health services that are tailored to children and young people not as add on to adult services. Devolving the problem but not stumping up the cash for funding the solutions is a dereliction of duty.

It is okay for someone like me; I take regular medication, I have, after many years, been able to access weekly sessions with an NHS psychiatrist and I have the sharp elbows that allow me to state my case to my GP and other medical professions. We can and need to do so much better; I do not want understanding from decision makers because to truly understand you would need to walk in my shoes and at my lowest I would not wish that on my worst enemy. I want to see the political will to change things and the pound notes that are needed to bring parity between mental health provision and other parts of the NHS after all we are talking about services that are saving people’s lives on a daily basis.

We are told that there is a parity of esteem between mental and physical health but you only have to look at research funding to see that this is nothing more than a nice platitude; for every £1 of health research money a mere six pence goes on mental health and the majority of that goes on treatment, if the government were serious about rebalancing the inequality they should commit to doubling this budget. We need to understand why only 13 per cent of us live with high levels of good mental health and 65 per cent of us experienced a mental health problem at some point in our lives.

I have been reluctant in the past to be as open and honest as I would like to be – partly because my life revolves around being a political animal and a Labour party activist. I have not, since my student politics day at least, felt like people have treated my differently if they know, but I am still concerned that people might think I am not as strong as I need to be and should not have a life in politics. We hear time and time again that we want people in politics to be normal, but every little perceived weakness is exploited to the max and the use of discriminatory language is rife – especially on social media. Within the political sphere we all have a duty – myself included – to ensure that our behavior reflects our principles. When we say we will stand up against hate, we should mean all kinds of discrimination and bigotry.

It is not all doom and gloom. I have so much to be thankful for, and am so lucky that even though this thing inside my head means at times I am a pretty rubbish daughter, sister, auntie, girlfriend, friend or colleague, I could be in a wholly different place if I did not have the support I have from my family and friends. That is something I am thankful for daily.

About 14 years ago I came out as a lesbian and for a long time now I have believed it imperative to be open and honest about my sexuality to show the next generation that it is alright to be honest with, and about, yourself.

So today, I am taking some of my own advice because it is about time I did the same for my mental health.

I will finish as I started: by taking a deep breath. That is pretty difficult to do when you are as rubbish as I am at breathing – but today breathing feels a bit easier, having got all this off my chest. If you are still reading: thanks for giving me time to talk and do my bit today. We have all got mental health, and mine is only one of a million such stories but with each story that is told we can get to the point where it is no longer brave to discuss and we will see an end to mental health stigma.


Katie Curtis is events manager at Progress. She tweets at @KatieCurtis


Source: The People Speak, licensed under Creative Commons

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