Why Theresa May's Mental Health Reform Plans Are Hypocritical
Theresa May has set out plans for a 'shared society', which calls for the state to acknowledge and relieve issues surrounding social injustice, and its subsequent fallout: mental health. The Prime Minister said: "For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health.
"Yet left unaddressed, it destroys lives, it separates people from each other and deepens the divisions within our society."
She added: "Changing this goes right to the heart of our humanity; to the heart of the kind of country we are, the values we share, the attitudes we hold and our determination to come together and support each other."
Theresa May at the Wellbeing Centre in Aldershot, Hampshire. Image: PA
Per the plans, mental health training for teachers and school staff will be put into action for a third of secondary schools in the country come 2018, the rest following into 2020. Per reality, only time will tell. May's rhetoric on mental health reform unfortunately follows an absolute death rattle of a year for political integrity and respectability, where MPs on the both the left and right managed to level so badly with the public's interests and struggles that the outsider, at-that-time laughable, fringe movements rose to enormous size and even defeated the once-confident elite norm.
Beyond mere trust issues based at face value, there are also the black and white facts conflicting the plans. Prior to May's speech in Central London, Labour's Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Barbara Keeley, warned the Tories' record on mental health is "one of failure."
She said: "They might talk about equality between mental and physical health, but we are yet to see their rhetoric become reality.
"The truth is that funding for mental health fell by over eight percent over the last parliament, there are now 6,600 fewer mental health nurses compared to 2010 and thousands of patients in crisis have to travel out of area for a psychiatric bed. Much of the extra funding meant for children's mental health services has actually been used for other NHS services."
Keeley added: "The Government has failed to provide sufficient funding for mental health services, and people are being let down as a result."
It does beg the question, regardless of your exact political slant, how a leader of a party that has imposed several benefits sanctions will or can be expected to take the treatment of mental health seriously, given that the cuts invariably lead to a dehumanised state of abjection, where children go to bed starving under a roof they fear may have an expiry date. Following cuts to housing benefit in 2011, research found that 26,000 people experienced a mental health repercussion.
"Housing provides shelter and security, protecting health and well-being," Aaron Reeves, a professor at LSE International Inequality Institute, said at the time. "But when that security becomes uncertain, health, and mental health in particular, is undermined. The government's reduction in housing benefit in April 2011 created uncertainty in the lives of some low-income by making their housing less affordable. This reduction in financial support increased the risk of depressive symptoms among those claiming housing benefit over and above other people in the private rented sector."
All parties have a responsibility to treat mental health properly. By 'treat' I mean go beyond standing at a podium and boring us all with the same saccharine one-liners about a country "that works for everyone." Politicians must realise that treatment stretches further than just ending stigmas held by your average Joe on the street, which, although a good thing, does not help drive a person to a psychiatrist's office that is both unaffordable and unreachable.
Featured image credit: PA