Saturday, 14 March 2015

Mental Health - What I would have said to #ldconf

This morning I had a Speakers' Card in for a debate on Mental Health, and measures Liberal Democrats want to see implemented in order to break the stigma and tackle the myriad problems mental illness causes.

It was a high quality debate, with lots of personal stories, so I wasn't too upset not to be called. Here, though, for posterity, is the final draft of what I would have said in the 3 minutes that would have been available. 


5 months ago, I could hardly contain my joy at the focus this party put on Mental Health at our last conference in Glasgow. Not only was it a key theme of the speech by our care minister, Norman Lamb, it was central to Nick's speech too. 

At last, Mental Illness was getting a spotlight shone on it by not just by campaigning organisations, or those with a particular responsibility, but by the Deputy Prime Minister. Not in a specialist setting, but on the national stage in one of the set-piece events of the year.

Mental Health matters. It matters to me as 20 years ago, I suffered from depression. It matters to me because even now I occasionally get the warning signs of a recurrence. The random thoughts telling me that people are talking about me, people don't like me, that I'm a failure. The pointless actions that reinforce - either in truth or in imagining - these paranoid thoughts. 

It matters to me as I've known friends and colleagues suffer, including some who have committed suicide - and seen their families give out some other reason for their illness, or deaths.

And this is why it matters to all of us - that stigma that persists even though mental illness affects 1 in 4 of us at some points in our life. Whether consciously or not, we all know people affected.

And we'll only break the stigma if we keep talking about it. If people at this conference, the other party conferences, in the Commons, in the Lords talk about. And outside of politics: in the media, at work, with friends: we must talk about. Clearly, concisely, sensitively and without euphemism.

Breaking the stigma matters to us all if we really are to create a Fairer Society with Opportunity for Everyone.

So, that is why I welcome this party's focus on these issues. I support this motion, but I really wanted to talk about lines 63 & 64.

I have a friend who has schizophrenia. His illness is kept under control with medication - but the nature of the condition means that a regular 9 to 5 - or other full time - job wouldn't be feasible. Unfortunately, that is not the way the benefit system is set up. A lack of understanding in the system either forces people back to work, or into sanctions, without exploring or providing any additional support that may be required.

Our commitment to Mental Health needs to permeate and inform all policy areas, in the same way as consideration is given to physical ailments.

And we need to learn from best practice - companies like that of another friend who supported him through a personal breakdown, and enabled his return to work on reduced hours in a slightly less senior role: a company which then sought his advice when composing a company policy for the mental welfare of their staff.

Conference, we've come a long way but we need to keep on banging on about mental illness: only by exposing its frequency, explaining its effects, supporting those suffering and increasing visibility will smash the stigma and create a more Liberal society.

No comments: