Liberal Democrats put mental health on the agenda in Holyrood and Cardiff

Phrenology head - mental health - Some rights reserved by evansvilleWe know that mental health has always been one of Nick Clegg’s top priorities. His first major speech as Liberal Democrat leader was on the subject. In the coalition, he, Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb have been pushing forward improvements to mental health care from making sure people in crisis see health professionals and not the inside of a Police cell, to a massive expansion of talking therapies to action to tackle the stigma that still exists.

A friend of mine has recently had some time off work for Depression. She wrote on Facebook, and asked people to share, the following:

What I do want to say is that until being off work for eight weeks with depression is regarded on equal footing with the same period of time off with a physical ailment of any kind ( from a hip replacement, to heart attack,stroke, badly broken limb, severe diabetes, or any of countless medical conditions ) then we will all suffer individually and as a society. There is no “stigma” about being ill whatever form the illness takes, until this injustice is addressed society will continue to to be the poorer for it.

Liberal Democrats’ input on mental health shows clearly where the party’s heart is. However, people in Scotland and Wales don’t benefit fro the positive changes because health is devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. In Scotland, we have a health minister who doesn’t seem to get mental health, or the importance of getting out there and making sure we have enough psychologists and consultant psychiatrists to match the growing need.

Today, the Scottish Liberal Democrats at Holyrood are using their opposition day debate to call on the Scottish Government to give mental health equal priority with physical health. Health spokesperson Jim Hume says:

It is unacceptable that mental health issues remain a faint blip on the radar of Scotland’s health care priorities. One in four adults will experience mental ill health in their lifetime.

The stigma attached to mental health issues means that our friends and loved ones are told to “man up” when instead we should be pointing them in the direction of support.  A postcode lottery in access to crucial psychological therapies means that 40 percent of patients in NHS Forth Valley waited longer than 18 weeks for  psychological therapy compared to 10 percent of patients in NHS Glasgow and Clyde. We need equality between mental and physical health care enshrined in law.

Individuals and families across Scotland will not be surprised to hear that mental ill health is now the dominant health problem for people of working age. But they should not have to suffer in silence. Scottish Liberal Democrats are committed to building a fairer society by bringing mental health out of the shadows and that’s what we will be urging the Scottish Government to do in today’s debate.

Meanwhile in the Senedd, Kirsty Williams is calling for an improvement in child mental health services and the introduction of mental health education to the school curriculum. This is really important. Last year, in a very poignant debate on mental health at the Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference, Ewan Hoyle said that if children were taught to recognise the signs of poor mental health, then they could get the early help that could stop their condition worsening.

Ahead of the debate, Kirsty told Wales Online:

It’s almost a decade on since the Children’s Commissioner first warned that children and adolescent mental health services provision was in ‘crisis across Wales’, yet many child health experts assess that this is still the case today.

One in ten children and adolescents will experience a mental health issue, yet there are still serious concerns over the provision of services in Wales.

Waiting lists are too long, there is a lack of investment and focus on early intervention, too many young people are still inappropriately placed on adult mental health wards, safety checks are not common practice and many young people get lost in the transition between CAMHS and adult mental health services.

Across the whole of Britain, Liberal Democrats are speaking out on mental health. They don’t get much in the way of parliamentary time and it’s good to see it being used to discuss these important issues.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • gramsci's eyes 2nd Apr '14 - 2:17pm

    Absolute sophistry – The expansion of talking therapies is to be achieved by the coalition redefining what a “talking therapy” is. Labour’s focus was on “evidence based talking therapy” (following LSE/Laylard report), The coalition have redefined what a talking therapy is. Hence a rag tag of “counsellors” already in the system or provided by former charities (now essentially businesses) are counted as “talking therapies” with no reference to their evidence base (because non exists).

    Mind you, maybe they can talk about mental health funding and the problems they are having with ATOS and their bedroom tax. Or does that sort of funding not count?

    As for Scotland, then you should realise that the coalition document also defines talking therapies as access to computerised CBT. In England that has been privatised and the GP must pay for a licence. In Scotland that is available to everyone in the world (via the net)

    As for the Police cell business then again don’t let the research evidence get in the way of feeling good about your policies. You are essentially talking about sect 136 mental health act. Every bit of research states that the way it operates, that the police could easily arrest for a criminal offence in the context of the situations . They often do this anyway in quite similar circumstances. Moreover, when the hospital is the place of safety they are far more likely to take this course of action because of delays at the hospital.

    Section 136 is a power of arrest and by definition a”deprivation of liberty” and it is therefore incumbent on the state to resolve as quickly as possible. Research tells me that in reality the overwhelming majority made subject to the section are not subsequently hospitalised where the place of safety is a police station. For the simple reason that the majority are not definable under the mental act and that the original situation was just that -a situation which is now defused (The police are a reactive , not a proactive agency in this area). The detentions are also shorter because once in the police station, the PACE clock is ticking and the police have easy access to an FME, and thereafter a social worker/psychiatrist if so required to assess. The police are also particularly adept at accessing informal supports (phone call to a friend) and other mechanisms.

    Where the hospital is the official place of safety the research tells me that detentions last far longer for the simply reason that hospitals have a culture on dealing with 136 which can be categorized as “admit now-assess later”.

    Frankly, police station bad, hospital good, is a pantomime analysis. “Survivor groups” of service users are not making reference to their mental health condition. They are making a political point about their experience of hospital.

    So we know where the lib-dem heart lies. Others prefer to use their head.

  • Harold A. Maio 2nd Apr '14 - 5:30pm

    —The stigma attached to mental health issues

    You mean the stigma you attached. You paper, your page, your words.

    You have chosen to direct it at me, I am angered.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 2nd Apr '14 - 6:16pm

    Harold, we know that stigma exists. My efforts, and those of the Liberal Democrats are there to eradicate that stigma. For too long it has been there, its existence unacknowledged, free to invade our society’s consciousness.

  • Richard Dean 3rd Apr '14 - 2:43am

    I think that the “stigma” that certainly exists may be a rather complicated thing.

    We all have a framework for thinking about physical injuries or virus/bacteria infections, we can recognize these things visibly, but I feel that there is much less knowledge about how to think about mental illness, let alone how to recognize it other than as peculiar behaviour. If I cut my finger, break my leg, or get measles, I’m not too encumbered about issues of competence or privacy or personality or the possibility of undue influence, but it’s those difficult issues – some embarrassing to many people – that may be the focus in mental health.

    Perhaps also there’s a degree of fear involved, partly perhaps because many of us may not really be very sure of who we are, partly because a judgment by one person that another has mental health issues can represent an illiberal imposition of one personality on another. Also, mental illness is not really understood by professionals, whereas we do have a reasonable amount of confidence that doctors do have some understanding of physical illnesses and injuries. There are connections with religion too, and faith and doubt – does my vision come from God or am I just mad?

    For these reasons In think it’s not a good idea to be pugnacious about stigma – to stigmatize it. Rather, it needs to be understood, researched, recognized as normal, and teased out and educated gently.

  • Richard Dean 3rd Apr '14 - 3:06am

    Another issue is that, while extremes may be obvious, the boundary between mental health and mental illness is not always very clear when extreme behaviour is not involved. In some situations the boundary may essentially be arbitrary. Sometimes being told to “man up” may be the right thing, sometimes not.

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