Norman Lamb writes: Time to change

Over the next few weeks’ telly-watching you may see adverts encouraging people to talk about mental health. For those of you that can’t wait, you can watch them online here. These adverts are part of the Time to Change campaign, England’s biggest ever attempt to end the stigma and discrimination that faces people with mental health problems. This is a brilliant campaign. I remember speaking at its launch back in 2008. In the time since then, it has made a real difference.

It can be extraordinarily tough to talk about mental health problems, and this only adds to the hardship caused by the illness itself. I welcome the fact that more and more people in the public eye have been speaking up about their own experiences – showing that mental health problems can affect anyone, in any walk of life.

During the debate on mental health at Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton a few weeks ago, many speakers, movingly, shared their personal experiences. Others made reference to mental health’s historical status as ‘the poor relation’ in health circles. This is something I am determined to change and the government’s mental health strategy clearly states that mental health will be given equal priority with physical health. I want to see us doing more to make that commitment a reality. It cannot be just rhetoric. This campaign is one small step in the right direction.

The Time to Change campaign is funded by the Department of Health together with Comic Relief. Last week on World Mental Health day the department became the first government department to sign up to the campaign. Many NHS trusts, PCTs and local authorities have already pledged their support – along with Citizens Advice, Comic Relief and the Premier League, among others. At the launch, I committed to doing everything I could to spread the word across Government. The whole of Government should demonstrate best practice in the way it treats staff with mental health problems.

If you want to bring the campaign to your own workplace then advice about how to do so is available online, along with resources for managers and employers and tips to help start a conversation about mental health.

One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year – so let’s stop being afraid to talk about it.

* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015. He now chairs the Science and Technology Select Committee

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  • mike cobley 17th Oct '12 - 1:18pm

    All this while the ATOS-run Work Capability Assessment scheme is inflicting untold anguish on thousands of disabled claimants? Liberal Democrat involvement in this Coalition seems to amount to trading the pain of one vulnerable community for the benefits of another. This is a vile compact.

  • Simon Bamonte 17th Oct '12 - 4:38pm

    @Mike Colby is 100% correct on this.

    Saying we’re going to improve life for the mentally ill, while forcing them to go through the Kafkaesque DWP/ATOS assessments which are systematically removing their only means of support and causing undue stress, harm and worsening of illnesses is the sort of hypocracy we’d expect from New Labour. But then when they are found “fit for work” (usually ignoring evidence supplied by their GPs and consultants) and then have their “assessment” overturned after waiting 9 months for their appeal, only to send them to yet another “assessment” three months later, is simply cruel and inhumane.

    Everyone says being in government is about making “tough decisions”. Funny how those decisions always seem to hit the most vulnerable the hardest, meaning a loss of all income and their home, while “tough decisions” for the rich mean they might have to switch to sub £50 champagne.

  • Richard Shaw 17th Oct '12 - 7:06pm

    I would like to say that this is a great campaign and I welcome Norman’s work to change attitudes towards in public and the workplace. I suspect most people with mental health issues will not have contact with ATOS, etc. and far more will have bad and mental health worsening experiences with members of the public, their employers or when accessing mental health services, which has unfortunately been the case for a member of my family.

    By fostering better attitudes and support in society and the workplace I hope we can help prevent people’s mental health degrading to the level where they are forced out of work and onto benefits in the first place.

  • Richard Shaw 17th Oct '12 - 7:08pm

    Oops, my first sentence should read “…towards mental illness in public…”.

  • Alex Baldwin 17th Oct '12 - 8:37pm

    @Simon – Your comment does ignore the large number of people who have a mental illness but are not rendered incapable of working by it, though obviously both groups deserve care and respect.

    The waiting times for mental health care in the NHS are ridiculously long at the moment. There’s not much point running a publicity campaign to get people to be comfortable seeking help for their illness when they will then be faced by years of waiting to get any treatment.

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