Friday 15 May 2015

Mental Health Policy after the General Election

- Sophie Dishman

The aftermath of the general election is on everyone’s lips right now. But mental health isn’t. The nation has been swept with different policies and promises but mental health, although receiving more recognition than in the past, has still not been as prevalent as it should be. With few political parties mentioning mental health in their manifesto, is there anything that can be done to put mental health at the top of the agenda of the new government? 

Mental health has always fallen short of health in any general election and in general, in my opinion. Yet mental health problems affect one in four of us. Mental health difficulties are so prevalent within society that the government should be doing more! They should be providing better funding to mental health services and voluntary organisations, because if we want the nation’s mental health to improve, we simply need the money to do it. Some political parties have pledged more funding in this area, but I still don’t think that it will be on par with the health budget. 

Many of us will either have a mental health difficulty or know someone with a mental health difficulty and the government should recognise this. IN the run up to election, I don’t think mental health was mentioned a lot. It is a niche subject, difficult to debate, even though it affects so many people. It should be ‘up there’ with housing and immigration, but it’s treated as the poor cousin of health. 

Attitudes to mental health still have a long way to go. Mental health stigma still exists. I’ve heard that some mental health difficulties described as the ‘lesser evils’. Politicians are ‘representing the country’, but they aren’t representing everyone’s views.  Those with mental health problems are not ‘crazy’ or ‘scary’ - we are normal people. The government should be ones to advocate this, they should be debunking the myths, along with organisations. 

Mental health difficulties can affect education and employment and I don’t think that this has been reflected in the general election at all. A big thing that should be on the agenda is student mental health. For a lot of people, mental health difficulties begin at student age, and there are lots of challenges unique to the experience of leaving home and going to university which make it important to look after ourselves and get adequate support. Stress, for example, is common, and it can create or even exacerbate existing mental health problems. Being a student is difficult - exams, assignments, balancing work life with social life, jobs, moving away from home…it's by no means a straight road.

Employment may also be difficult to find because of mental health difficulties, some people can even experience discrimination. Finding a job is difficult enough, but with mental health difficulties it can be even harder - anxiety, depression, OCD - it has to be declared and I feel that some think that it isn’t worth it because of the stigma and the fear. People may also struggle to sustain employment because of their mental health difficulties which needs to be addressed and understood by the government and their employers. 

Lastly, the government needs to commit to parity of esteem between mental health and physical health. I need to reiterate this again, because it is so important. If we achieve equality between them, then the things above should fall into place. It is a case of putting mental health on the agenda and making it a top priority. It does not have to be the only top priority, but it needs to be up there!

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